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With free agency pending at the end of the season, the Nationals need to either sign Rendon to a long-term contract or trade him to receive something in return. After losing Bryce Harper to free agency last season, the Nats can't afford to go through something similar again.

For the second straight season the Washington Nationals are stuck deciding what to do with their best player, who’s going to be one of the most coveted free agents.

Just like Bryce Harper last year, Anthony Rendon is in the final year of his contract with the Nationals and could potentially sign with another team this winter. However, Washington must decide whether to trade or re-sign him before it’s too late.

Even with Harper signing with their division-rival, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nationals entered the season with the best pitching rotation in a division that was wide open. However, this season has been a disappointment for Washington, as it sits fourth in the National League East with a 26-33 record.

Despite the early season struggles the Nats have encountered, Rendon has been one of the bright spots for the team this season. He’s hitting .331 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs and is eighth in batting average in the National League.

The NL East will come down to either the Phillies or the Atlanta Braves, which is why the Nats need to decide what they’ll do with Rendon. The team only has two options  — trade him or re-sign him to a long-term contract. Letting him walk and not getting anything in return will only hurt Washington in the future.

If the Nats decide Rendon isn’t in their long-term plans, then trading him is the best option. Getting young prospects in return would help stock the farm system, which will help the Nats down the road.

Most likely, Rendon will be traded to a contender in the American League that needs a right-handed hitter who can play the hot corner. A few teams that stand out are the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians — all are in the hunt for the playoffs and rank in the top 15 of best farm systems.

Another team that has a loaded farm system is the Braves — who have the No. 3 farm system — although it is unlikely the Nats would trade with a division rival. Washington should listen to what Atlanta’s trade package could be. Atlanta’s farm system is stacked and it can benefit both teams to try and get a deal done, despite the Braves being in the same division. The Nationals could build a solid foundation for years to come in hope of getting back to the postseason.

Washington’s only other option is to do what it didn’t do with Harper — re-sign him. Even though the Nationals have a great starting rotation paired with young talents like Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Spencer Kieboom, it can’t afford to let Rendon walk for nothing.

It’s time for Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo to see where Rendon stands. If Rendon is willing to stay in Washington, both parties should work together to get a deal done, which could be over $100 million. The decision to re-sign him should be easier for Rizzo now that he has to see Harper in a Phillies uniform for 12 more years. The last thing he’d want is Rendon reuniting with Harper in Philly or going elsewhere in the NL East, even if he’d be a great fit for both teams.

Keeping Rendon should be the Nats’ top priority. While the Nats could sign Rendon to an extension this offseason, it’s better for the team if they can lock him down for the long term before this season ends. If Rendon isn’t willing to sign a deal before the trade deadline or wants to leave, the Nats have to start looking for a trade partner.

Regardless of what the team decides, Rendon is going to be a highly coveted trade target before the trade deadline. It’s possible he is traded well before July 31, but the longer the Nats wait, the less leverage they have.

As June begins, this is the chance for the Nats to correct their mistake from last year. For the sake of the fanbase, the Nationals have to decide whether to keep Rendon or trade him to get something back in return before it’s too late.

Contact Jason Clampitt at clampijt@dukes.jmu.edu. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.