Editor's note: Mike Moustakas agreed to a four-year, $64 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds
Two options exist next season at third base for the Nationals: well-compensated Anthony Rendon returns or someone has the enormous task of replacing an MVP finalist.
Odds of the first appear slim. Rendon and the Nationals spent more than a year trying to reach terms on a contract extension. The best season of his career only ran up the price. Washington continues to state a desire for Rendon’s return, and why wouldn’t it? It will not erode negotiations with public comments.
“I want to give him a big kiss, I’ll tell you that,” said managing principal owner Mark Lerner after Game 7 of the World Series. “He’s an incredible player. I hope he stays. I love him to death. We have a very close bond. First year — as many people know — his apartment was right next to my wife and I and we felt a bond from that point on. He’s a special guy. Nobody deserves it more.”
Rendon is the top everyday player on the market this offseason. He’s by far the best option at third base. Washington has no internal option to replace him. It will have to pay someone. So, who is out there?
The first name is Josh Donaldson. He re-established value this season in Atlanta thanks to a 6.1-WAR effort (Rendon was 6.3, according to Baseball Reference WAR; Fangraphs has Donaldson at 4.9 WAR and Rendon at 7.0 which feels more of an apt assessment). His .969 fielding percentage — for what that measurement is worth — equaled Rendon’s. Donaldson is the inferior defender of the two. However, it’s not a massive chasm.
He turns 34 years old in December. If teams, including Washington, are hesitant to give Rendon a seven-year deal ahead of his age-30 season, they will be hesitant to give Donaldson more than three years (and owe draft-pick compensation). However, one thing all National League teams can keep in mind is the looming installment of the designated hitter. Everything points to the position arriving in the NL soon. So, any third baseman on a multi-year deal this offseason will have two other potential landing spots: first base or designated hitter. This idea will seep into the Rendon negotiations, as well as Donaldson's.
The crowd thins considerably and rapidly after Donaldson. Mike Moustakas (3.2 WAR), Todd Frazier (2.2), Asdrúbal Cabrera (1.7),
Beyond them is a tier of shrugs: Pablo Sandoval, Sean Rodriguez, Kaleb Cowart, Jedd Gyroko, Jung Ho Kang. Envision the 2019 World Series champions starting their 2020 defense with one of those names at third base and near the bottom of the lineup. Hard to do.
Keep this in mind about Rendon: He received $18.8 million last season to avoid arbitration. Which shows Washington’s baseline finances at the position. Its next third baseman is not going from zero to $30 million annually. This is a high-cost, high-investment spot already in the payroll -- with payroll control elsewhere (outfield, shortstop, etc.) an aid. If Rendon returns, it will be an even higher-level cost and investment. If he does not, and one of these non-Donaldson free agents replaces him, there will be a cost there, too, which will have nothing to do with cash.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: