The Nationals are finalizing a deal with Howie Kendrick to bring the postseason hero back for at least one more season.
Kendrick and the Nats have agreed to the framework of a one-year contract that will pay him $6.25 million in 2020, with a mutual option for 2021, a source familiar with the deal confirmed this morning. The deal, first reported by the Washington Post, is pending a physical.
It’s an increase in salary for the veteran infielder, who turns 37 in July and made $4 million this season before becoming a free agent. It’s also a salary the Nationals happily will pay, given Kendrick’s major contributions both on and off the field.
Kendrick is coming off a career year in which he batted .344 with 17 homers, 62 RBIs and a .966 OPS (210 points higher than his OPS over the previous 13 seasons), then etched his name into Nationals lore with a string of mammoth postseason hits.
Kendrick’s 10th inning grand slam at Dodger Stadium propelled the Nationals to a Game 5 victory in the National League Division Series. He batted .333 with four doubles in the four-game sweep of the Cardinals to earn NL Championship Series MVP honors. He then capped off a momentous October with his go-ahead, two-run homer in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the World Series, forever sealing his place in franchise history.
Through it all, Kendrick also has served as a popular and trusted voice inside a clubhouse that hasn’t been lacking in veterans. Countless players noted how much they missed him in 2018 while he was recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, an injury that did prompt general manager Mike Rizzo to promote top prospect Juan Soto from Double-A Harrisburg but still hindered the Nationals during a disappointing, 82-win season.
His return will be greeted with wholehearted enthusiasm among both fans and teammates, who have now seen the organization retain two free agents from its championship roster: Kendrick and catcher Yan Gomes. Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Asdrúbal Cabrera, Brian Dozier, Daniel Hudson, Matt Adams and others remain unsigned.
Kendrick can help fill the void at both first and second base, though the Nationals still seek another regular player at each position to share the load. Manager Davey Martinez will have to again monitor Kendrick’s workload, just as he did this season when rarely starting him three days in a row. Kendrick, who made two short stints on the injured list with hamstring strains, totaled 370 plate appearances in 121 games.
If the Nationals bring Zimmerman back at a reduced salary (perhaps something in the range of $5 million to $6 million), they could have the makings of a productive (albeit entirely right-handed) first base combo at a reasonable price. They could also save money at second base by having Kendrick share the job with top prospect Carter Kieboom, who would earn only slightly more than the league minimum of $563,500. They would still need to address third base, whether that involves re-signing Rendon to a huge contract that pays in excess of $30 million per year or some other, cheaper alternative.