Turns out the Nationals’ midseason acquisitions last summer weren’t rental players after all. One month ago, they were able to re-sign reliever Brandon Kintzler. And now they’re bringing back veteran utilityman Howie Kendrick.
Kendrick and the Nationals have agreed to a two-year, $7 million contract, a source familiar with the deal confirmed, ensuring the club has a valuable bench piece - not to mention a backup plan at both second base and in the outfield - returning for 2018 and 2019. Completion of the contract, which was first reported by USA Today, is pending a physical, the source said.
Kendrick was an under-the-radar but significant addition when the Nationals acquired him from the Phillies last July for minor league lefty McKenzie Mills. The 34-year-old proceeded to hit .293 with seven homers, 25 RBIs, a .343 on-base percentage and .837 OPS in 52 games following the trade, spending most of his time in left field but also starting games at second base, first base and right field.
The longtime Angel and Dodger (who owns a .291 batting average in 12 career seasons) was thrilled to join the Nationals at the time, in part because of his excitement to play for manager Dusty Baker. With Baker now gone and replaced by former Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, there was some question about Kendrick’s interest in returning to Washington, especially with no guarantee of an everyday starting job.
The Nationals, though, see Kendrick as more than a bench player but rather a key contributor who should still be able to get regular at-bats, whether filling in several times a week or taking over full-time if a starter is injured.
That could prove to be true at the season’s outset, with second baseman Daniel Murphy recovering from October microfracture surgery on his right knee and potentially not being ready to play on opening day.
Kendrick’s re-signing ensures that all four of the Nationals’ July trade acquisitions will be back in 2018. Kintzler, who was a free agent, signed a deal that will pay him $5 million this season and includes both a player and a separate club option that is likely to keep him in D.C. for the 2019 season.
Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, acquired together from the Athletics, each already were signed through 2018 at the time of the trade, with the Nats also holding club options on Doolittle for both 2019 and 2020.
The Nationals also last week re-signed veteran starter Edwin Jackson (another midseason pickup) to a minor league contract. The only major league free agent they’ve added from outside the organization so far this winter is backup first baseman Matt Adams, who will replace the departed Adam Lind.