Washington

If a Bryce Harper-Anthony Rendon Combo Costs Phillies $600 Million Combined, Should They Do It?

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Anthony Rendon picked the right year to morph into prime Frank Thomas or Miguel Cabrera at the plate. The soon-to-be free agent is a lock to finish in the Top 3 of NL MVP voting and may even win the award with Cody Bellinger's late-season slump and Christian Yelich's late-season injury.

Rendon has been the perfect baseball player in 2019. His batting average has been over .300 every day since April 1. His OPS has been .996 or higher every day since April 1. He has not had a bad month from an on-base or power perspective.

He has played strong defense all season. He's been both selective and successfully aggressive with runners in scoring position. He has barely struck out.

What's not to love?

Nolan Arenado, 10 months younger than Rendon, signed an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies in February. That's a template for the Rendon megadeal because one could argue Rendon is every bit as good. Maybe better. Rendon has, for the last three seasons, equaled Arenado without playing half his games at Coors Field.

So ... Phillies?

Rendon and Gerrit Cole will be the obsessions this offseason by fans of every team. If forced to pick between the two, how could you not go with the position player given how poorly most nine-figure starting pitcher deals play out? Even for deep-pocketed teams that have a third baseman, Rendon is the type of talent worth moving pieces around to add.

He is an ascending player. He is better than Bryce Harper, better than Manny Machado, better than all but five or so position players in baseball. He will be available before his 30th birthday for nothing but (a boatload of) money.

The Phillies will do their due diligence as they always do. The question is not will they pursue Rendon, it's how aggressively?

Bohm's fit

In Alec Bohm, the Phils have a third base prospect in waiting. But some inside and outside the organization question whether the 6-foot-5 Bohm can stick at third base. When a player has the bat to play every day but not the glove to stick at third, the three results are typically a move to left field, a move to first base or a trade.

Hoskins' future

The Phillies have Rhys Hoskins at first base. Hoskins, however, showed this season that he probably cannot be the second-best offensive piece on a contending team. Not unless he can fix his extreme-pull-happy ways and/or do more with his RBI opportunities. Homers and walks are great. But Adam Dunn was never a contender's second-best offensive piece either.

Hoskins' batting average, home run and RBI totals are almost sure to fall short of his 2018 numbers, despite more plate appearances and much more lineup protection around him. It's a concern that his home run rate will decline in the year of the juiced ball.

If the Phillies were to sign Rendon, they would not have room for all three of Rendon, Hoskins and Bohm unless they moved Bohm to left field, where Andrew McCutchen figures to play next season in his return from a torn ACL.

An option would be signing Rendon, moving Bohm to first base and trading Hoskins for a starting pitcher. But that sort of plan sounds easier in theory than in practice. You'd be selling low on Hoskins, who will be coming off the worst half-season of his brief MLB career. 

A front office has to time those things perfectly. If you sign Rendon before trading Hoskins, you lose leverage because the rest of the league sees your urgency to move Hoskins. You probably won't get full value. 

And you cannot trade Hoskins without a clear-cut plan to replace him with a better offensive player. Much of the criticism of Hoskins ignores the fact that he's still making less than $600,000. He's not a $25 million player who is disappointing. He's an inexpensive player who will be under club control through the end of the 2023 season. There is value to that, even with Hoskins hitting a career-low .232 with an .840 OPS.

Is Rendon the right player?

The Phillies have money and will continue to have money. Where do they spend it? Is Rendon good enough to command a contract approaching $260 million? Is he the right player for this team to lavish with that much money?

The opinion here is yes, as long as the contract doesn't reach untenable levels. Fewer and fewer young superstars are even reaching free agency. In 2019 alone, we've seen Mike Trout, Arenado, Ronald Acuña Jr., Jacob deGrom, Alex Bregman, Xander Bogaerts, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino and Ozzie Albies sign contract extensions. Under the current system where players don't earn what they're actually worth in their first three-to-six seasons, teams are offering more up-front money to save some on the back end. Players are accepting those deals to get paid quicker but also because they see how much free agency is stagnating.

Who is to say another player as great as Rendon will even be available to the Phillies in the near future? Mookie Betts might be. Or the Red Sox might let J.D. Martinez walk and give Betts Harper money. It's just hard to say.

Divisional implications

If the Nationals lose Rendon to a team outside the NL East, they will obviously be worse going forward. The strength of the Nationals' lineup is their 3-4 combination of Rendon and Juan Soto. Is there a better pair of consecutive hitters in any lineup in baseball? Maybe Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson. Maybe Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez. Rendon-Soto would still be the pick here.

If the Phillies can sign Rendon, it could legitimately be a six-to-eight-win swing between the Phils and Nationals. 

Offseason priorities

Extending J.T. Realmuto is a priority for the Phillies. So is adding several impactful starting pitchers. So, too, should be adding a better 1B to Harper's 1A. You can't waste the primes or best years of Harper, Realmuto or Nola. And while it's true that signing another massive contract would limit the number of times the Phillies can do it again during Harper's 13-year deal, it's also true that the first half of Harper's deal figures to be his most productive, making now the time to supplement the current core.

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