Washington Nationals priority should be Anthony Rendon, not Bryce Harper

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Anthony Rendon #6 of the Washington Nationals bats against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on September 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Anthony Rendon #6 of the Washington Nationals bats against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on September 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals may be focused on trying to retain Bryce Harper, but their focus should be on keeping Anthony Rendon on a long term extension.

When one looks at the Washington Nationals and free agency, there is an obvious name that comes to mind. Bryce Harper, the top available free agent, had reportedly turned down an offer of $300 million over ten years to head into the market. Understandably, the Nationals are looking to retain the present face of the franchise, but they are going to have plenty of competition.

In fact, the Nationals may be better off letting Harper depart. They would still have a solid outfield with Adam Eaton, and the exciting young duo of Juan Soto and Victor Robles. While they would miss Harper in the lineup, it would open a spot for Robles, who could enter the coming year as one of the favorites for the 2019 Rookie of the Year Award.

In addition, given the salary that Harper is likely to command, the Nationals may have some financial issues moving forward should they retain his services. That is especially the case as third baseman Anthony Rendon has his own impending free agency coming up at the end of the 2019 campaign.

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For as much as Harper has mattered to the Nationals over the years, Rendon has also become a key part of the lineup. After coming back into his own in 2017, he continued that strong showing last year. In 2018, Rendon posted a .308/.374/.535 batting line, hitting 24 homers and a league leading 44 doubles. Defensively, Rendon was excellent as well, saving eight runs and leading the league in fielding percentage for the third consecutive year.

While the Nationals could have a strong outfield without Harper, the same could not be said for third base. They have four players with third base experience on their top 30 prospect list, including two of their top ten prospects. However, neither Luis Garcia nor Yasel Antuna are expected to be ready for the majors until 2021.

The same hold true for the Nationals 14th ranked prospect, utility man Jose Sanchez, who was part of the same Gulf Coast League infield as Garcia and Antuna. If all three develop as expected, Washington could have a strong infield filled with home grown talent – in another three or four years.

Of the rest of the Nationals top 30 prospects, Drew Ward is the only other player who is listed at third base. Ward is expected to make his major league debut in 2019, but is not considered a future star in the making. He has some raw power, and a good amount of patience at the plate, but does not offer that high of a ceiling. Those traits could be seen in his performance last season, when Ward produced a .249/.363/.422 batting line, hitting 13 homers and 18 doubles between AA and AAA.

While Rendon would likely get a long term deal in free agency, it is time for the Nationals to explore an extension. They have already begun the process, making efforts to engage agent Scott Boras in extension talks. While nothing has happened yet, they have at least attempted to start a dialogue far sooner than they did with Harper.

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The Washington Nationals may well lose Bryce Harper in free agency. While the Nationals could absorb that loss, they cannot afford to lose Anthony Rendon. He should be their top priority at this point.