With free agency underway, Nats extend two qualifying offers

Five full days have passed since the Nationals won the World Series, and a lot has a lot happened in those five days. The celebration phase of the post-Game 7 victory time period, alas, is over. And now it’s time to get down to serious business.

Free agency is now fully underway, with all unsigned players free to negotiate with anybody they want. That doesn’t mean there’s going to be a sudden flurry of moves in the next 48 hours. Baseball, lest you forget, doesn’t act that way. It’s a long, slow, often agonizing process. (Just like postseason games, am I right?)

Whether anything is likely to happen soon or not, as of right now several key 2019 Nationals are allowed to sign with any other team they like. That includes Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Daniel Hudson, Matt Adams, Fernando Rodney and Gerardo Parra.

Rendon-Runs-Blue-sidebar.jpgWith that in mind, the Nationals made two important decisions Monday to protect themselves in case they lose either of the two biggest names on that list: They extended qualifying offers to both Rendon and Strasburg.

What that means: The Nats offered each player a one-year contract for $17.8 million. The players have 10 days to decide whether to accept or decline the offer. Players almost always decline these offers, because they know they can get even more on the open market. And it’s a stone cold lock that Rendon and Strasburg both will decline the offers they just received.

So why did the Nationals bother to do it? Because if Rendon or Strasburg sign elsewhere, they’ll receive a compensatory draft pick (following the second round in 2020) in return.

Those players now have 10 days to either accept or decline the offers. Obviously, neither is going to accept it, given the kind of massive deals they fully expect to get as free agents.

There remains optimism within the organization that one or both players could return on a new deal next season. Strasburg, in particular, appears to be the most agreeable to a restructured contract after he opted out of the remaining four years and $100 million he was owed by the Nationals. If they’re willing to add a couple more years and a nice chunk of extra money, the veteran right-hander would probably be swayed to stick around.

Rendon is far less certain to return, perhaps now the No. 1 free agent on the market this winter. (At worst, he’s No. 2 behind Gerrit Cole.) The Nationals love him, and they have no obvious replacement for him at third base, adding to the pressure to get a deal done. But it’s going to cost a lot to keep Rendon here for years to come. A lot.

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