Will pressure of free agency bother unflappable Rendon?

As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Anthony Rendon, who yet again quietly put together an all-around season that merited consideration on the National League MVP ballot.

PLAYER REVIEW: ANTHONY RENDON

Age on opening day 2019: 28

How acquired: First-round pick, 2011 draft

MLB service time: 5 years, 130 days

2018 salary: $12.3 million

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2019. Free agent in 2020.

2018 stats: 136 G, 597 PA, 529 AB, 88 R, 163 H, 44 2B, 2 3B, 24 HR, 92 RBI, 2 SB, 1 CS, 55 BB, 82 SO, .308 AVG, .374 OBP, .535 SLG, .909 OPS, -6 DRS, 6.3 fWAR, 4.2 bWAR

Quotable: “He’s truly underappreciated, in my mind, around baseball. But I see he’s one of the best.” - Davey Martinez

sidebar-Rendon-Blue-.jpg2018 analysis: If there was anyone on the roster the Nationals had no reason to worry about entering the season, Rendon had to top the list. He was coming off a brilliant 2017 season in which he finished sixth in MVP voting, he was healthy and he was poised to do it all over again. Which is exactly what he did.

Rendon did miss three weeks early on after fracturing a bone when he fouled a pitch off his left foot, but his performance didn’t suffer from it. He posted a .907 OPS in his first 22 games off the disabled list, and he missed only five games the rest of the season (four of those coming following the birth of his daughter in late July).

It was Rendon’s torrid closing stretch that really elevated his season from very good to great. Over his final 32 games, he hit .362 with eight homers, 30 RBIs, a .442 on-base percentage and 1.104 OPS, ensuring he wound up setting new career highs in batting average, slugging percentage and doubles (which he led the league in).

In a strange twist, Rendon did not have a great season in the field, at least by one metric. His -6 Defensive Runs Saved mark ranked 14th out of 19 qualifying third basemen, though FanGraphs still did rate him fourth overall in defense and his .981 fielding percentage was the best of his career at the hot corner.

2019 outlook: The story that hovered over the entire 2018 season, of course, was Bryce Harper’s pending free agency. Will Rendon’s pending free agency have the same effect on the 2019 season? Given his vastly different personality, it’s hard to imagine this playing out quite the same way.

Nevertheless, it’s a major issue facing the Nationals over the next 12 months, and the moment they know one way or the other where Harper will be playing next season, they need to begin seriously trying to lock up Rendon, who common sense suggests would be more agreeable to negotiating an extension before he hits the open market.

Rendon will never admit it - and who knows, maybe he genuinely doesn’t view it this way - but given what’s at stake personally in the coming year, he’s going to be motivated not only to maintain his production but also his good health. Harper played in a career-high 159 games this season. Rendon should be looking to top his current mark of 156.

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