When word trickled out that the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg had agreed on a record-breaking seven-year, $245-million contract Monday, the reaction across the industry, after absorbing the startling price tag, was to conclude that Anthony Rendon’s days in Washington are over.
Rendon, a slugging third baseman, is the other premium homegrown talent testing the free-agent waters after helping lead the Nationals to their first World Series title. He’s attracted strong interest from several clubs, including the Dodgers. He is expected to land a contract in Strasburg’s neighborhood — if not more expensive — after he reportedly declined a seven-year offer worth about $215 million from the Nationals near the end of the regular season.
And last week, Washington owner Mark Lerner, knowing the respective price ranges, dropped a bombshell when he said that signing both Strasburg and Rendon would be too expensive. Bringing the band back together to defend the title suddenly appeared very unlikely. On Monday, however, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo walked back Lerner’s assertion and insisted they could retain the 29-year-old third baseman.
“Anthony Rendon is, again, one of the players that is most near and dear to my heart,” Rizzo said at a news conference for Strasburg’s pact alongside Scott Boras, the agent for Strasburg and Rendon. “A guy we’ve drafted, signed, developed, watched turn into a superstar, playoff success, and a huge part of the world championship run that we went on. So he’s a guy that we love.
“The ownership has always given us the resources to field a great team, and we’re always trying to win, and we’re going to continue to do so.”
Besides the Dodgers, who have met with Rendon, the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies are reportedly also interested.
They are vying for an elite defender who batted .319 with 34 home runs, a 1.010 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and a league-leading 126 runs batted in during the 2019 regular season. The performance was good enough for a third-place finish in National League MVP voting. In the playoffs, Rendon hit .328 with five home runs, eight doubles and 21 RBIs to fuel the Nationals’ improbable championship run.
Josh Donaldson, the second-most coveted third baseman on the free-agent market, could be a consolation prize for a team that misses out on Rendon.
Accommodating Rendon or Donaldson would require the Dodgers moving Justin Turner, their incumbent third baseman, to another position. Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said he has spoken with Turner about the possibility and Turner is on board. He would likely move to first base, though he could also see time at second.
Rendon would supply a second top-tier right-handed batter besides Turner to complement the Dodgers’ fleet of left-handed hitters. He would not fill a glaring need, but Friedman said the club doesn’t have any needs beyond the “omnipresent” desire to improve the bullpen — in particular with a top-end late-inning reliever.
Instead, the Dodgers are focused on bolstering the roster with elite talent, either through free agency or the trade market. That could be with starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, the top free agent in this class. Other elite options remain after Strasburg’s decision, and they won’t come cheap.
Friedman said Josh Bard will return as the club’s bullpen coach. Bard spent the last two seasons as the New York Yankees’ bench coach after he was the Dodgers’ bullpen coach for two years. The former catcher will replace Mark Prior, who is taking over for Rick Honeycutt as the Dodgers’ pitching coach.