Where Does Anthony Rendon Fit In?

On August 16th, 2011, Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported an hour and 48 minutes after the signing deadline of 12:01AM, that the Washington Nationals had agreed to terms with their top four 2011 first year player draft picks.  The Nationals had not only drafted but also, for the second consecutive year, signed what analysts claimed to be the best bat of the draft class in third baseman Anthony Rendon from Rice University.

Rendon, in three years with the Rice University Owls, had put together what could be classified as one of the best college careers in the decade.  In 187 games, he gathered 253 hits, which is shown in his astonishing .371 batting average as well as his .510 on base percentage.  Additionally, during his sophomore year, he became the only undergraduate ever to win the Dick Howser Trophy, otherwise known as the “Heisman” of NCAA Baseball.  Rendon had one important problem though.  His junior year was plagued with nagging ankle and shoulder injuries that hindered his performance.

These injuries caused Rendon to fall in the draft from the definitive number one pick to the number six pick for the Washington Nationals.  Despite being a “best player available,” this move came as a slight surprise for many fans that viewed Ryan Zimmerman’s third base position as blocked for a long time.  Along with this surprise came a lot of speculation as to what the Nationals options were for the future given the addition of Rendon and the lingering contract extension talks with Zimmerman.

Here are four possible future options that the Nationals have:

1) Trading away or benching Ian Desmond

In the past two seasons with the Nationals, Desmond has made 57 errors, the worst in the league.  Although he made significant fielding progress this year despite the high number of errors, his offensive production declined.  His batting average dropped from .269 to .253 and he struck out 30 more times in only 60 more plate appearances.

With scant improvement, the argument can be made that Desmond is not the Nationals future shortstop with Rendon pressuring in the minors. Instead, he could become a solid bench player with his speed and fielding range.  Possibly the best option is trading him soon while interest is relatively high.  Moving Desmond would leave the shortstop position open leaving Espinosa to move to short, the position he played throughout the minors, and Rendon to take over second.

2) Trading away Danny Espinosa

In Espinosa’s first full season with the Nationals, he put up an impressive 21 homeruns and .323 on base percentage despite a disappointing .236 batting average.   He also provided the Nationals with much needed range at second base.  His solid rookie year proved that Espinosa is an everyday starter in the major leagues and not just a bench player. The best option would be to trade Espinosa while the demand is still high for developing major leaguers.  Getting rid of Espinosa would allow Rendon to take over his former position.

3) Allowing Ryan Zimmerman to enter free agency

Zimmerman is coming into his second to last contract year with the Nationals.  Depending on how much confidence the front office has in Zimmerman after this season, they will decide whether or not they will offer the two-time Silver Slugger a contract extension.  This will also depend on free agent signings.  If the Nationals sign a significant free agent for a lot of money, there may not be enough money left for Zimmerman, leaving him to enter free agency. Zimmerman’s departure would open up the third base position just in time for Rendon to step in.

4) Moving Ryan Zimmerman from third to first base

If the Nationals are unable to sign a big name first baseman such as Fielder then a strong possibility would be moving Zimmerman from third base to first base after Adam LaRoche’s contract expires.  This would also open third base just in time for when Rendon would most likely be ready to come up to the majors.

These are just four possibilities but no one can truly predict baseball and its market.  Numerous situations can occur to influence what happens with Rendon in the future including his own development in the minors.  What do you see happening in the future?

About Joe Drugan

Managing editor of The Nats Blog and co-host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast.

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