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Thursday, December 12, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Nationals had 2,999 days to sign third baseman Anthony Rendon to a long-term contract when there was nobody else who could sign Rendon — not the Los Angeles Dodgers, not the Texas Rangers, and not the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

They chose not to. And now he is gone.


To do so would have required vision that the Nationals owners, the Lerner family, do not seem to have.

They reportedly tried at various points to make a deal with Rendon. But as they do, they never made the commitment that would have closed the deal, when it would have been less expensive than the $245 million Rendon got signing with the Angels — a contract reportedly without any money deferrals, contrary to the way the Lerners do business.

The Washington Post reported in September that Washington offered Rendon a seven-year, $215 million deal, with deferrals, but the train had left the station by then. Rendon was on his way to an MVP-caliber season, and the free agent market was too close for Rendon and his agent, Scott Boras, not to explore it.

But they could have made a long-term commitment to Rendon much earlier and should have felt comfortable doing so. I mean, after his 2017 season — 25 home runs, 100 RBI and a .301 batting average, they should have concluded that Rendon was trending upward and the investment would not have been ill-advised, even if the Lerners felt they were overpaying.

And they certainly should have made Rendon the offer necessary to keep him in Washington after Bryce Harper walked out the door and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies — even if they felt they would be overpaying. They did, as it turns out, dismissing Boras’ claim last spring that Rendon was due Jose Altuve money. The Houston Astros star signed a five-year, $150 million contract extension in 2018.

At that point, there were factors for Washington to consider besides the return they would get from Rendon on the field — factors worth overpaying for.

The Lerners overpaid Jayson Werth nine years ago for factors other than performance, signing him to a seven-year, $126 million as a signal to the baseball industry that the Nationals were poised to be a legitimate franchise and not the laughingstock they had previously been.

Committing to Rendon would have sent the signal to the industry and Nationals fans that this franchise would do more to stay world champions than they did to become world champions — that the Nationals had the opportunity to be baseball’s top dog and win multiple World Series titles, changing the sports landscape in this town and inside the industry for years to come. That requires bold vision and bold commitment.

Instead, they return to their commendable goal of competing every year.

The Nationals have now watched two of their first-round draft picks leave town in back-to-back years — a bad look that has obviously been overshadowed by the World Series euphoria. Players like Rendon are hard to come by. And when you have control of a player like that, you reach into your pockets to keep them, especially when your pockets are very, very deep, contrary to Mark Lerner’s pleas of poverty when he claimed in an NBC Sports Washington interview that they couldn’t afford both Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, who the team did sign to a seven-year, $245 million deal, but one with money deferrals.

Perhaps they hoped Rendon would feel more at home in Washington like Strasburg did and be willing to accept the Lerner’s way of doing business. After all, they recruited him to be their representative on the board of directors of the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy (a shaky position, as it turns out, since Ian Desmond had that role before Rendon and he left).

But they had to know Rendon was a different guy, and while Boras has worked with the Lerners on deferred contracts with the Lerners with Max Scherzer and Strasburg, Rendon made it clear that he did not want those terms. Remember last spring when Rendon told reporters that “everyone has this misconception that we work for Scott. That’s not the way it works. You can ask him.”

By the way, there are 2,163 days until Juan Soto becomes a free agent.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.


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