Fates of second-tier free agents just as critical to Nats’ chances

So much attention has been paid - and will continue to be paid - to the Nationals’ two biggest free agents this winter: Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. But let’s not forget the host of other key veterans from their World Series roster who currently aren’t under contract, because their fates are plenty important to the franchise’s chances in 2020 as well.

Friday’s deal to bring back Howie Kendrick for one guaranteed year at $6.25 million plus a mutual option for 2021 is a really significant move for the Nationals. We don’t know for sure if the multi-talented infielder, who turns 37 in July, is going to be able to come close to duplicating his sensational 2019 season. But we do know the Nats are now counting on him to play a major role for them again.

Kendrick’s re-signing - assuming he passes his physical, of course - has ramifications for others with still-uncertain futures.

Zimmerman-O-Face-Dugout-After-HR-NLDS-Sidebar.jpg* Does this set the Nationals up to now finalize a deal with Ryan Zimmerman to return at a reduced salary (perhaps in the $5 million to $6 million range) and split the first base job with Kendrick?

* If so, does this signal the end of Matt Adams’ time in Washington? Or is there a chance the club would still try to bring back the lefty slugger to provide a more balanced attack at first base while also deepening a bench that was so good this year?

* Is there still room for Asdrúbal Cabrera to return and hold down the fort at second base, with some assistance from Kendrick?

* Or does this signal the organization’s commitment to give Carter Kieboom the opportunity to play every day in the big leagues, most likely at second base?

All of these questions are intertwined in some way, and they’re still connected in many ways to the Rendon dilemma. If the star third baseman re-signs, the Nationals can focus exclusively on nailing down the plan at first and second bases (though perhaps on a tighter budget). If Rendon departs, there’s now a gaping hole at third base that must be filled. But perhaps that also opens the door for more money to be spent to bolster the right side of the infield and take some of the pressure off next year’s third baseman to account solely for the production Rendon once provided.

Point is, every one of these decisions is important to the Nats’ chances. As integral as the big names (Rendon, Strasburg, Juan Soto, Max Scherzer) were to their World Series title, they still wouldn’t have reached the promised land without the contributions of Kendrick, Zimmerman, Cabrera and others who made far less money.

So while the rest of the baseball world stresses out over the fates of Rendon and Strasburg, don’t forget to pay close attention to the rest of the free agents who could make or break this offseason for the Nationals.

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