He hadn’t revealed this publicly before, but Howie Kendrick admitted Friday he fully intended to retire after the 2020 season.
After a well-deserved victory lap on the heels of his World Series-winning home run, what more could the 37-year-old have needed to do on a baseball field? The time would’ve been right to say goodbye to the sport, head home to Arizona and enjoy life with his family.
That was the plan. Before the pandemic. Before the shortened season. And before a nagging hamstring injury prevented Kendrick from playing the final four weeks of the Nationals’ season.
“‘Man, do you want to go out like this? Do you want 2020 to be any worse?’” he shared Friday during a Zoom session with reporters. “2020 has been strange, due to COVID and all the other climate going around the country. It is a strange year. And to think you would end on a year like this ... it is a tough one.”
Kendrick does not know yet what he’s going to do. He’s heading home at the end of the weekend. He’ll work with his longtime physical therapist to get his legs healthy again. And then he’ll have the talk with his wife and kids.
“I want to get healthy first, and talk with my family and then decide,” he said. “Because right now, being hurt, I wasn’t too happy about finishing this way. We’ll see what happens. I don’t want to say yes, and I don’t want to say no. Because right now, I really don’t have an answer.”
The Nationals do have some say in the matter. Kendrick’s contract includes a $6.5 million mutual option for the 2021 season. If either he or the club elects not to pick up the option, he gets a $2.25 million buyout.
The question the Nats will face: Do they believe Kendrick can keep himself healthy enough to play enough games to help them win next season?
That’s not an easy task. Despite his resounding success since joining the Nationals in July 2017 - a .316 batting average and .873 OPS, plus, you know, those historic October home runs - Kendrick has had a difficult time keeping himself on the field. He ruptured his Achilles tendon in 2018 and missed significant time with a hamstring strain in 2019 before having it happen again this year.
If he does return, Kendrick understands he can’t play as much as he (and certainly the team and the fan base) will want him to play.
“I’m not an everyday guy anymore, and I tell people that all the time,” he said. “I’ll play as much as they want me to. But as your body gets older, it does start to break down.”
One complicating factor: Will there be a designated hitter in the National League next season? If so, there’s probably room for Kendrick to join Ryan Zimmerman (assuming the Face of the Franchise returns after sitting out this season), Starlin Castro and a left-handed first baseman (if Eric Thames isn’t retained) as part of a four-players-for-three-positions group.
If the DH disappears, though, it could be tough for the Nats to carry Zimmerman, Kendrick and a left-handed first baseman.
First things first. Kendrick has a big decision to make. And, if we are to believe him, he’s still not sure what that decision will be.
“I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t really come up with anything,” he said. “I love baseball. I love the game. That’s one of the toughest decisions you’re ever going to make. Being around these guys playing in D.C., it’s really been a dream come true. And what we accomplished last year, being able to become world champions, that’s something special. ...
“If this did end up being my last year, I can tell you I really don’t have any regrets.”