The enigma that is Anthony Rendon

Anthony Rendon in the spotlight (Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats)

It was in the Nationals last game when Anthony Rendon stepped up to the plate with two outs and bases loaded with a chance to do something he has never accomplished in his entire MLB career — a walk-off home run. It was not meant to be this time as Rendon popped the ball up and about 200 feet short of reaching paydirt. With 108 home runs in his career, Rendon hits most of his home runs in the fourth and first innings of ballgames. In fact he only has one 9th inning home run since June of 2014. Rendon’s first home run of his career was in the 9th inning, but he only has 5 home runs in his entire career after the 8th inning and is a career .255 hitter in Hi Lev spots. Maybe that is part of his personality. He is a great player, but not the guy you would say is “clutch” in a late game spot to win the game. To tie the game, sure, to win the game, we are still waiting for that.

Right now, Rendon is still the offensive star of this Washington Nationals team, but sometimes stars have to close-out games. Yesterday proved that the small things do matter. In the first inning, Francisco Cervelli of the Pirates grounded a tailor-made doubleplay ball to Rendon who bobbled it and could only get one out and the inning continued for Max Scherzer who then surrendered two consecutive hits resulting in two runs — the eventual difference in the game.

With this new trend of teams extending their own players, most fans of the Washington Nationals have four names at the top of their lists in the following order: Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles

At the top of the list is Anthony Rendon because chronologically speaking his employment contract with the Nationals is set to expire in a little over six months. “Tony Two Bags” is the priority — it would seem — but things are never what they seem. This process just adds to the mystery of Anthony Michael Rendon who is an enigma. He does not crave the limelight so little is known about him except the snippets we get from time to time like the fact that he is married and has a young daughter. His favorite sport is basketball, and the Texan just enjoys living life on the down-low with his wife  Amanda Rodriguez and their daughter Emma. For Anthony Rendon, he is so low-key and low maintenance that he is almost the anti-Harper. The similarities though as they share super agent Scott Boras is making Nats fans nervous as he could go the way of Harper to another team.

“I think Anthony wants to be here, I think he wants to be here long-term,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “And we want him here. Hopefully there’s a deal that transpires out of goodwill between the two sides.”

We heard similar talk on Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper too. Sometimes it works, but most times it does not work when your agent is Scott Boras unless you have a player like Stephen Strasburg who took a real liking to Washington, D.C. and absolutely wanted to stay and did a favorable team deal to stay. Like Rendon, Stephen Strasburg is low-key and does not crave the limelight.

If Rendon wanted to play close to his home in Houston, the Astros have no room for him as they just extended their star 3rd baseman Alex Bregman. In one of those twists, Bregman’s family is from Bethesda, Maryland but he grew up in New Mexico and money was nor geography was Bregman’s main concern for his future, rather just staying with the team where he has already won a World Series and a city that has embraced him. Rendon has a city that loves him here in D.C. With Harper gone, it is easier for Rendon to stand-out as their superstar among Max Scherzer, Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Turner, Soto, and Robles. But Rendon does not want to stand-out which is part of the problem. You generally don’t make franchise money to a player who does not want to be a stadium draw. People generally are not buying Rendon shirts or tickets specifically to see him, and that will not get you Nolan Arenado money.

“[Rendon’s] been in the top 10 players in the game in the last three or four years,” Boras said. “I think for Anthony, the recognition that he’s received for his performance has — for whatever reason — not been to the level of [his performance]. Just this off-season, people are really starting to recognize the type of player he is. … The Nationals are very aware.”

Is there a cryptic message there from Boras? You have to think there is one. When Boras’ lips are moving, there is usually a reason. If Rendon wants to stay, he will stay. It is really that simple unless he waits for the Nationals to make other plans. There was an offer made to Rendon in Spring Training, and he rejected it.

“We’ve had some talks in the past,” Rendon told NBC Sports Washington. “I think it’s kind of come to a halt lately. They had an offer out there [around the time of the Arenado deal]. It wasn’t to where we thought we should be. They said we’re going to continue to talk. … But I think as long as — I think if your identity is not in the game, if you’re who you are as a person, you’re not using this to base who you are as a person. … Unless your identity is in the game, I feel like you shouldn’t be looking for that. If [an extension] happens, it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t.”

Does saying, “if an extension happens, it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t” give you that warm and fuzzy feeling? Probably not. He is earning $18.8 million this year, and if he decides to leave the Nationals would be left with a hole at 3rd base for sure unless they consider Triple-A top prospect Carter Kieboom as the heir apparent. Right behind Kieboom, is top prospect Luis Garcia, and the Nationals have been getting some great production from Drew Ward and Jake Noll. There are options, but Anthony Rendon was a +6.2 WAR last year and that creates a gaping hole if he leaves. Maybe Rendon does not win you yesterday’s game — he has won you plenty in innings 1-to-8.

Rendon is a doubles machine. He owns the Nats mark for 44 doubles in a season last year, and he did that in only 136 games. No wonder why he is known as “Tony Two Bags” although this season his four-bags are close in comparison 8-to-6. The kid from Rice University could put it all together this year, and like last year should be an All-Star. In the past, All-Star voting was a popularity contest, but this year the players will have more say in the process. Rendon is batting a smooth .400 with a 1.333 OPS.

“For me, he’s Mr. Steady,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “His all-around game. Defense. Offense. He’s a guy that keeps our line-up together.”

Right now, Rendon is really the guy keeping the line-up together.

“We love Tony to death,” principal owner Mark Lerner said. “He’s certainly one of the greatest players in the game today. He’s an even finer person. His activities with the [Nationals] youth baseball academy back in D.C. are phenomenal. He does it under the radar. It’s very important to him. Just a great example of the way a professional athlete should conduct himself. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites for a reason.”

The daily comments on Rendon’s future is controlled by two people ultimately and that is Rendon and the Nats owner Mark Lerner. Those are the two who have to tango. An offer was made and turned down by Rendon. But remember this, only Rendon knows his true future intentions so for now, enjoy the present that is Anthony Rendon.

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