SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals are World Series champions, but for the second straight offseason, they face a hell of a dilemma. Like Bryce Harper before him, Anthony Rendon is the top hitter on the free agent market, and the Nationals could find that they're outbid and lose a second superstar.
Rendon has quietly been one of the most valuable players in baseball over the past four years, and he finally got the attention he deserves as the Nationals stunned the NL field and then the Astros. Rendon repeatedly swung games in the late innings, further bolstering what was already going to be a very, very strong case to suitors:
Anthony Rendon's plate appearances in the 7th inning or later of the Nationals' five elimination games this season:
Walk, double, home run, double, home run, double, home run— Sam Fortier (@Sam4TR) October 31, 2019
Depending on your preferences, he is either the top player on the market or 1A to Gerrit Cole. We looked at Cole and the Giants yesterday. Today, we look at the case for chasing Rendon. It might seem farfetched, but the Giants went after Harper a year ago, and Rendon is actually the better player.
No, seriously, Harper got all the attention but Rendon was the best Nationals hitter in recent years. He batted .319 last season with a .412 on-base percentage, .598 slugging percentage and a WRC+ of 154 that trailed just Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger in the National League.
Rendon finished behind only those two in the MVP race and ranked seventh in the Majors with a 7.0 fWAR. Over the last four seasons, Rendon trails just Mike Trout, Yelich and Mookie Betts in FanGraphs' version of WAR.
There's absolutely no doubt about his talent, but what about the fit? The Giants have Evan Longoria locked in at third but could move pieces around for the right hitter. They tried to swap Longoria's salary for similarly-paid outfielders last offseason and could go down that path again. Or they could move him to first and trade Brandon Belt.
Rendon might not be as famous as a Harper or Manny Machado but he's absolutely the type of player you get creative for, and he's exactly the type of hitter the Giants need. This is still a lineup that has too many wasted at-bats, and Rendon's patience and simple approach would fit well as the Giants work in their next generation of potential cornerstones.
This is where we usually go, "Well, the money is going to be insane." But the Giants went down this same path with Scott Boras last year, so the real question is, "Why would a Rendon chase be different than the Harper one?"
First, there's the age. Rendon turns 30 next summer and his defense already is starting to slip a bit. The Giants were ready to pay for Harper's late 20s with the knowledge that they could always slide him over to left field as he slowed down. It's a bit trickier when you're talking about a 29-year-old infielder.
Second, as mentioned yesterday with Cole, there was a business side to the Harper conversations that wouldn't be there with Rendon. He is not one who seeks the spotlight and the word around the game is that he's not the face-of-the-franchise type. That matters when you're talking about $300 million deals.
While the Giants could clear a spot for Rendon, it's not the cleanest fit because Longoria was one of their better hitters last year and the holes elsewhere are much larger. That's a lot of shuffling for a roster that's at least a year away from contention.
The Giants went after Harper nine months ago thinking that he could be their cornerstone moving forward but also help an aging core in 2019. It turns out there was nothing that could have made that group competitive, so they'll be better off taking a step back this offseason when it comes to the market's top hitter. This upcoming season will again be about building and transitioning.
They should probably still make the phone call, though. While most around the game think Rendon will end up back in Washington D.C., the Dodgers are looming and could easily move Justin Turner across the diamond. At the very least, getting involved with Rendon would raise the price for rivals.