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Report: Phillies plan to 'strongly pursue' Anthony Rendon

Report: Phillies plan to 'strongly pursue' Anthony Rendon

A year after the Phillies signed Bryce Harper away from the Nationals with a 13-year $330 million contract, it appears they're planning to go after another one of their star position players. 

According to Bob Nightengale, the Phillies plan to 'strongly pursue' Anthony Rendon in free agency with Josh Donaldson as their backup plan at third base. 

The Phillies have yet to meet face-to-face with Rendon according to the report. 

Rendon is expected to sign a contract close to the eight-year $260 million deal Nolan Arenado signed with the Rockies a year ago. The Phillies signed Zach Wheeler to a five-year $118 million contract earlier this week, and signing Rendon would likely vault them into the luxury tax. 

According to Nightengale, their owner John Middleton's aggressiveness in free agency has not been deterred by that fact. 

On Thursday, Nationals owner Mark Lerner explained how the team can't afford to bring back both Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. The Phillies have also had reported interest in Strasburg to add to their rotation. 

If Rendon signs elsewhere, say the Rangers or Dodgers, Philly's backup plan of Donaldson would pit them against the Nationals once again. Washington is reportedly eyeing Donaldson as well if they don't bring back Rendon. 

The Winter Meetings begin in just a few days and as division rivals like the Braves and Phillies make moves to go after the Nationals next season, the defending champs will have to maneuver their free-agent negotiations with seemingly more budgetary restrictions. 

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Davey Martinez says top prospect Carter Kieboom will have chance to start at third base

Davey Martinez says top prospect Carter Kieboom will have chance to start at third base

WASHINGTON -- Carter Kieboom will be provided every chance to be Washington’s starting third baseman next season. At least according to his manager.

Davey Martinez met with a small group of reporters Friday after a “Town Hall” event at SiriusXM’s downtown studios (which airs Jan. 23 at 5 p.m. on Sirius XM’s MLB Network Radio Channel). Third base was the prime topic afterward.

“He deserves a shot to make the team,” Martinez said. “We need to fill a void at third base, and we think he's appropriate. He can do the job. I wasn't at Winterfest, but the guys there said he put on about 15-20 pounds of muscle, so I'm looking forward to watching him play there.

"What I want to do, and I'm going to talk to him in the next few days, is just let him play third base and not move him all over the place and let him get used to playing third base and get him over there and see what we got.”

Washington was cornered into this gamble when Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson signed elsewhere. Asdrúbal Cabrera is the secondary option at third, Martinez said. Starlin Castro will remain at second base. Howie Kendrick could also play third base from time-to-time.

The Nationals will go from an MVP finalist and a top-3 defender at third base to a 22-year-old rookie, if Kieboom ends up the starter. He made nine starts at the position for Triple-A Fresno in 2019. Overall, he made 10 appearances at third and committed four errors. It’s a drastic shift in baseline for the defending World Series champions.

"He's young, and I talked to [infield coach Tim Bogar] about getting him out there every day early and teaching him,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing about that is positioning, and I think once he learns how to play that position, and where to position himself, I think he's going to be OK. ... I want him to focus on defense. I think he's going to hit, but I think he really needs to focus on defense in spring training and then we'll go from there.”

Mike Rizzo recently called the position a “strength” despite there being no viable evidence for that claim. Kieboom is the organization’s top prospect, so he graces everyone with the intrigue attached to his potential -- his short-lived flop in the majors last season notwithstanding. Cabrera is a 34-year-old utility player who finished 2019 with a solid year after splurging at the plate when he joined the Nationals. The former could fail because of youth, the latter because of age. In the Nationals view, a prospect could blossom and a solid veteran is available for insurance.

“Asdrúbal’s going to play, and I talked to him,” Martinez said. “He's going to play third, some second, he'll play some first. He'll pinch-hit off the bench, which is kind of nice having a switch-hitter like him. What I like is we got options.”

The main one at third, in the middle of January, is Kieboom.

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Nationals will enter Spring Training in familiar territory with fifth-starter competition

Nationals will enter Spring Training in familiar territory with fifth-starter competition

For a team that rose to contention behind the strength of its pitching staff, the Nationals have never been afraid to leave the back end of their rotation up to chance.

It started with John Lannan vs. Ross Detwiler in 2012. Then Tanner Roark edged out Taylor Jordan for the fifth spot in 2014. AJ Cole and Erick Fedde battled it out for the fifth spot in 2018 before Jeremy Hellickson leapfrogged them both two weeks into the season.

This year, three familiar faces will be in the mix for that coveted No. 5 spot: Fedde, Austin Voth and Joe Ross. All three pitched in hybrid spot-starter/long-relief roles while jumping back and forth between the minors and major leagues. Each had their struggles but also showed flashes of what their potential could be.

“It was a year where I got to do a lot in the sense of starting and relieving,” Fedde said at the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event last weekend. “Kind of just been the same old role of whatever I can do to help this team. It’s a benefit to be on a winning team where they just try to fit you in wherever you can help. Just trying to taking things one step at a time this year.”

Fedde started his career higher on prospect rankings than his fellow competitors did, but he’s mostly failed to deliver on that promise in three years since breaking into the majors. In 2019, his up-and-down performances continued, with four quality starts mixed in with three outings in which he allowed 5+ runs.

But the biggest hurdle to Fedde making the Opening Day squad might be his rare fourth option. Both Ross and Voth are out of options heading into 2020, meaning the Nationals must place them on waivers if they don’t make the active roster out of Spring Training. Fedde, despite being optioned in three separate seasons, accumulated a fourth option due to his lack of service time at the major-league level.

So that puts the spotlight on Voth and Fedde. With the addition of the 26th man to the active roster this year, the Nationals have already said they’ll be expanding their bullpen to eight pitchers. That means the loser of the fifth-starter competition likely gets relegated to a relief role.

“I’ve done both before,” Voth said at WinterFest. “Obviously, I’m used to starting more often but if I was a reliever as well, long-relief guy, I’d be fine with that. Just want to have a role on this team and be a part of this team.”

Based on last season’s results alone, Voth would appear to be the frontrunner heading into the spring. The former fifth-round pick posted a respectable 3.30 ERA and 9.1 K/9 over nine appearances (eight starts) in what qualified as his rookie season. A shoulder issue prevented him from making the World Series roster, but he insists he’s healthy heading into this year.

Voth’s injury paved the way for Ross to make the World Series roster and thus fill in for Max Scherzer in Game 5 after the ace was scratched with a neck spasms. He pitched admirably for being given the ball on both short notice and short rest. Overall, Ross’ 2019 numbers weren’t stellar, but he was also in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

Both pitchers will enter Spring Training looking to showcase improvements they’ve made over the offseason. For Voth, he wants to improve the effectiveness of his sliders against righties, working to increase its depth and add more velocity to better differentiate it from his curveball. For Ross, he will look to show that he’s fully healthy and capable of returning to his 2016 form when he made 19 starts and accrued a 3.43 ERA.

Fedde shouldn’t be counted out, but he’ll have to have a lights-out start to Spring Training in order to garner serious consideration. The Nationals probably have more roster questions entering this season than they’ve had in a long time, but the fifth-starter competition is a game they’ve certainly played before.

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