SAN DIEGO - While Stephen Strasburg was motivated to get his new deal with the Nationals done early this offseason, Anthony Rendon appears to be more willing to let the free agency process play out over the course of the winter.
If Rendon somehow winds up rejoining the Nationals, though, Strasburg may play a key role in making it happen.
The World Series MVP and new recipient of the largest contract ever given to a pitcher has been actively trying to convince Rendon to return to Washington while also encouraging the Nationals front office to do everything possible to bring the star third baseman back, according to a source who has been in touch with Strasburg.
Though his seven-year, $245 million contract established new records for pitchers in both total compensation and average annual value, Strasburg was willing to let the Nationals defer a reported $80 million of the deal until after it expires in 2027. He did so with the hope it would help clear up some extra space for the club to make more moves in an attempt to contend for future championships, a fact both general manager Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras went out of their way to mention during Monday’s press conference announcing the Strasburg signing.
Throughout the process, Strasburg has been in touch with both Rendon and Nationals ownership, the source said, making his pitch for the two sides to work out a deal and keep one of the most important players from the club’s World Series run in D.C. for the long term.
Whether Strasburg’s active participation is enough to bring Rendon back is up for debate. Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner previously stated the club couldn’t afford to re-sign both players, but the structure of Strasburg’s new contract might help make it more plausible.
“I think Mark’s comments were before the Strasburg negotiations were complete,” Boras said today. “And that contract structure that Stephen did allowed certainly an opening and a consideration that probably the Nationals were available to them in their decision making. So I think it’s something that clearly opens doors for them. And when you look at their payroll structure, and the amount of money they have in the $60-$70 million range with their payroll, I think they can sign not only an Anthony Rendon but many players.”
Any deal with Rendon almost certainly would also include deferred salary, something that was a sticking point for the 29-year-old during his previous negotiations. The Nationals offered him a seven-year contract worth about $210 million late in the regular season, but that deal included significant deferrals, according to a source familiar with the talks.
It’s been assumed ever since that any offer that still included deferrals would be a non-starter for Rendon, but the third baseman is more willing to consider it now, according to the source. Strasburg’s willingness to defer some of his salary, not to mention the Nationals’ championship and attempt to remain a World Series contender in 2020 and beyond, may help change Rendon’s mind.
That said, there are several clubs in pursuit of Rendon, who Boras today compared to Mike Trout as the only major leaguers who have had “6 WAR appraisals” the last three years.
“So he is literally atop the game, one of the game’s greatest,” the agent said. “And the respective demand on him has been equal to that performance level.”
Boras said every club that has been in pursuit of Rendon so far has offered contracts in “the seven-year range,” which he called “appropriate.” That could produce a total value similar to - or even beyond - Strasburg’s $245 million deal.
Unlike last winter, when they knew they had young outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles to help offset the loss of Bryce Harper, the Nationals have no valid in-house replacement for Rendon at third base. They have already expressed interest in free agent Josh Donaldson, according to a source familiar with their plans, but the options beyond the 33-year-old thin out quickly.
“We think that there’s valid options,” Rizzo told “MASN All Access” today. “There’s not another Anthony Rendon, besides Anthony Rendon, in the marketplace. There’s another player that I drafted, signed and developed, and watched turn into a superstar before our eyes. I’d love to have him back for a long, long time. He’s a consummate professional on and off the field. In the community he’s huge in our Nationals Academy. And he’s a great person.
“That said, we certainly have to look at alternative plans if we don’t get that done. We certainly have alternative plans, and we’ll have to try to make up for his huge offensive production if we don’t re-sign him.”