By letting Bryce Harper walk last offseason, the Nationals have pigeonholed themselves into a position where they must re-sign Anthony Rendon, or risk total alienation from the fanbase.
With 27 RBI in 145 plate appearances, Rendon has hit 17 doubles and nine homers, and that's with missing 14 games with a left elbow contusion. He's hitting .333 for average with a 1.119 OPS. That's All-Star caliber, and he'll only have 33-year-old Josh Donaldson to compete with among top-flight third basemen in free agency.
Rendon is set up perfectly to cash in big time, if the Nationals don't pay him first.
Rendon was a top priority for the discussion.
"There's been a lot of talk this week about Anthony Rendon and his future, and I just don't know how it works as a fan, and maybe you can kind of fill us in," a Junkies host prefaced one question. "Are you the one that makes an offer? Do the Lerners give you parameters? Are your analytics people saying 'this is the type of deal you should give him'?
"How does it come about when you make that first offer to Scott Boras and to Anthony Rendon?"
"Well, I think all those things come into play," Rizzo said. "We do an analyzation of where this thing should be? How does it fit into our payroll long term? You have to plug those numbers in. And suffice it to say that Anthony Rendon is a guy that we drafted, developed, signed and watched turn into a star in front of our eyes. He's a guy that we would like to have long term.
"We're certainly going to be aggressive and try and make that happen, and hopefully he'll go. We have shown that we are not afraid to sign our own players. We're not afraid to sign free agent players. We're not afraid to spend money on stars of the game and I don't think Anthony Rendon would be any different."
"We would love to have Bryce. If it's something that makes sense for both Bryce and for the Nationals, we would love to have Bryce Harper here in the long term."
"He's a guy that we scouted for a long time, we drafted, signed, developed and watched grow into a star, so certainly we're going to have discussions with him."
Make fun of Harper slumping in Philly all you want, he still has nine homers and 31 RBI, and the Nats still have a Harper-sized hole in their offense. They would have killed for that offensive production – at the peril of his .224 average – amid their endless rash of injuries these past two months.
But this isn't a referendum on a decision already made. It's to point out the seriousness of the decision they're about to make with Rendon. Flash forward to May 22, 2020. If Anthony Rendon is slinging bombs for anyone other than the Nationals, imagine how restless the fanbase will be after seeing their top two everyday players walk in consecutive free agencies.
Another Junkies host pressed on: "A lot of the fans that we talk to every day – and we do, we talk to them every single day – they're afraid that the same thing that happened with Harper is going to happen with Rendon, where you guys say publicly, 'Yeah, we want to keep him.' And Harper even said he was interested in staying, but the better offer, to him anyway, was in Philadelphia.
"A lot of that was the deferred money stuff. So that's what fans think. The fans think that, 'Look. We know that the Lerners and Rizzo want to keep Rendon, but if Rendon's gonna get an offer where 20 percent of the money or 30 percent of the money is deferred, he's probably gonna take a better offer where he gets all the money up front.' Is that something that the fans should worry about?"
"Well, we've made deferral deals. We've made straight up deals. We've made a lot of deals. We've made a lot of deals for a lot of money," Rizzo said. "Again, we've never been afraid to pay our own players and we've never been afraid to go outside and pay free agents. Some deals we've worked out have had deferrals in them. Some we've worked out have not had deferrals in them."
"If there's a deal to be had and both parties can come to an agreement, again, we want Rendon here and we'd love to have him here. But it also takes two to get a deal done," Rizzo said. "And we went out and got deals done with Scherzers and the Strasburgs, and a you can go down the list of free agent names that we have signed.
"And some had deferrals in them and some didn't, and some worked and some didn't. We're aggressively trying to sign Anthony Rendon. We'd love to have him here as a National long term. And as far as the negotiations itself goes, you know I'm not gonna comment on that, but we'd like to have him here."
They must find the money to afford Rendon. The future of their fanbase is at stake.