You Pick: Anthony Rendon or Stephen Strasburg?

The Nationals just won the World Series thanks in large part thanks to stars Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. The pair were great for Washington in the regular season, combining for 13 wins; in the playoffs, Rendon posted an excellent 146 wRC+ and Strasburg became a playoff immortal.

The pair also earned around $54 million last season, with $10 million of that amount deferred as part of Strasburg’s contract. With both players now free agents, there are sizable holes for the Nationals to fill, both on the field and in their payroll. After running $200 million payrolls in each of the last three seasons, the club has only $132 million in salaries committed for next season, including arbitration estimates and minimum salaried players. When I looked at the teams with the most money to spend next season, I noted the $80 million gap between the Nationals’ 2020 commitments and 2019 payroll, and had this to say about their potential to spend:

The Nationals have a ton of money to spend coming off a World Series victory, and if they are going to get back to the playoffs, they will need to. If the team wanted, they could bring back both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg and because they stayed under the competitive balance tax amount last season, the penalties for going over next year are lessened. A big spend by the Nationals seems likely, though it won’t do much to change spending overall given where they were last year.

Apparently Nationals owner Mark Lerner disagreed, and said as much last week:

“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner told Donald Dell in an exclusive interview. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Scott Boras, agent to both Rendon and Strasburg, disagreed with Lerner’s statement and responded with his usual flair. We don’t need to dissect Lerner’s statement, but a brief analysis is probably necessary. Lerner is correct that the free agent pair will command large salaries, though even if both were given contracts for $30 million per year, it would represent only $6 million more than they made with the Nationals in 2019. As for the latter part of Lerner’s statement, while the Nationals have had large payrolls in the past and probably still will next season, with only about $130 million committed now, they are very much in the middle of the pack among major league payrolls.

The Nationals can absolutely afford both players, both in 2020 and in the long term, with Max Scherzer’s salary coming off the books after 2021, Trea Turner not eligible for free agency until after 2022, and Juan Soto under team control through 2024. But what the Nationals can do and what they will do might be two different things.

Though asking Strasburg or Rendon begs for the Why Not Both GIF, if we assume the Nationals will only sign one of Strasburg and Rendon, which player they choose to retain will have significant repercussions for the long-term future of the team. When considering which player the Nationals would be better off re-signing, we should consider the potential contract as well as the Nationals’ current need, and potential alternatives.

While I have an opinion about which player I would rather have if I were Washington, I’m interested in finding out what you, our readers, prefer.

First, here’s the capsule I wrote for Rendon in our Top 50 Free Agents post:

A year ago, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado were the best free agents on the market. Anthony Rendon is better than either. Rendon put up seven wins this season and over the last three years, only Mike Trout (25.2 WAR), Mookie Betts (22.4), and Christian Yelich (20.0) have posted more than Rendon’s 19.9 WAR. Despite being a good defender, his value is not tied to his fielding, with a 145 wRC+ over the last three seasons. Where Rendon has a disadvantage relative to Harper and Machado is his age. Last year’s pair were heading into their age-26 seasons while Rendon will play his new contract in his 30s save for the first few months of the 2020 campaign. The Rockies tacked on seven years and $234 million to lock up Nolan Arenado before he could hit free agency; Arenado is a year younger than Rendon, but it’s hard to look at the two third basemen and not see a lot of similarities.

The median crowdsourced contract for Rendon was seven years and $210 million. (I also wrote on Rendon earlier this offseason.)

As for Strasburg, his median crowdsourced contract projection was five years and $140 million. Here’s Eric Longenhagen’s profile from that piece:

Unless you’ve only discovered baseball within the last few days, you probably don’t need much Strasburg background. His 2019 average fastball velocity was the lowest of his career (94.3, down from 95.2, which was down from several years of 96) but actually climbed over the course of the season. His swinging strike rate on the heater, though, is up two percentage points, from 8% to 10%. Why? Better bat-missing locations, it seems, as Strasburg’s fastball locations have slowly crept toward the northern reaches of the strike zone and above.

All three of Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, and Anthony Rendon are represented by Scott Boras, and there’s probably a way to sequence the order in which they sign that maximizes the money they each get, especially Cole. Clayton Kershaw re-upped with the Dodgers for three years and $31 million as a 31-year-old coming off a year when he had some back issues. Strasburg’s not showing quite as much age, and should do better, setting a nice, high AAV bar for Cole.

So now I leave it to you. Based on the crowdsourced contract projection, which player would you rather have if you were the Nationals?

We hoped you liked reading You Pick: Anthony Rendon or Stephen Strasburg? by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Rational Fan
Member
Rational Fan

Rendon if it were me.

I think Strasburg is the riskiest FA of this entire signing period; after the workload of this past season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a down year from Stras based on how other arms have bounced back the year following their first deep post-season run.

Stras is going to get paid based on what his ceiling is, but he has fallen short of that ceiling due to injury time and time again. Rendon on the other hand won’t require as long of a commitment – possibly – and has been a beacon of consistency ever since the nagging injuries got him his first few years.

Ryan21
Member
Ryan21

“Rendon on the other hand won’t require as long of a commitment.” But isn’t the premise of this article that Rendon will sign for 7 years and Strasburg will sign for 5 years? I’m guessing the results of the crowdsourcing would change significantly if we changed the parameters of the hypothetical contracts.

Regardless, I agree with you that Rendon’s consistency suggests that a long-term commitment wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Here’s a list of the age 34 through 36 3B seasons so far this millennium:

https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=3b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2019&month=0&season1=2000&ind=1&team=0&rost=0&age=34,36&filter=&players=0&startdate=&enddate=

So, even if Rendon does require 7 years, it seems there’s plenty of reason to expect that he could be worth 30 million or so in AAV even towards the end of the contract (to say nothing of any surplus value earlier in the deal).

Rational Fan
Member
Rational Fan

Yeah, I’m taking Rendon at his word here – in that he doesn’t want to play into his late 30’s. He implied he wanted to retire by 35 years old, so I’m working on that assumption that he takes a 5 year payday and then calls it quits.

dukewinslow
Member
Member
dukewinslow

I agree with the broad point that he’ll retire when he said he’d retire with one caveat- if he starts approaching HoF milestones, I think he might delay retirement (and if he’s producing 3 WAR or whatever at that point, good for him and the team paying him).