The Angels spent the last week watching starting pitchers come off the board. In the face of a fast-moving free-agent market, general manager Billy Eppler and his staff scrapped multiple plans plotting a path toward contention.
“There are a lot of ways to create a winning team,” Eppler said late Wednesday in response to his inability to sign top free-agent starters Zack Wheeler, Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole.
One solution was crystallized mere hours later. The Angels pivoted and came to an agreement with free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon on a seven-year, $245-million contract, according to people familiar with the negotiation. The move further protects three-time most valuable player Mike Trout in the lineup, which is expected to feature the powerful bats of Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton alongside veteran Albert Pujols.
Rendon, 29, cashed in on his best season as a major leaguer, which culminated in a World Series championship. He was considered one of the top position players on the market. He had his choice of suitors, including the Dodgers, after declining the Washington Nationals’ reported offer of seven years and more than $200 million at the end of the season.
The Texas Rangers had hoped Rendon, a Houston native, would sign with them out of a desire to play close to home. Rendon ruled out the Rangers when the club declined to offer him seven years, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Rendon landed on an Angels team that Tuesday shipped high-priced and injury-riddled veteran infielder Zack Cozart to the San Francisco Giants. He was swayed by Angels owner Arte Moreno, who has drawn to Anaheim other big-name free-agent position players such as Pujols and Josh Hamilton in his pursuit of a championship.
Moreno, described this week by new manager Joe Maddon to be “all in” on improving his team, also allocated resources to Eppler in March to sign Trout to a 12-year, $426.5-million contract.
Rendon will not fill the void atop the Angels rotation. But he will provide an infusion of power at a position that previously had little. Without Rendon’s bat, the Angels would have likely used David Fletcher and Tommy La Stella at third base. Although La Stella became an All-Star in part because he tapped into his power in his first season drawing regular starts, Fletcher utilizes a contact-first approach and doesn’t have much pop.
Rendon hit .319 with 34 home runs and a 1.010 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while maintaining his defensive excellence at third base. He led the majors with 126 runs batted in and was an All-Star for the first time. He finished third in National League MVP voting.
He continued his elite performance in the playoffs, batting .328 with five home runs, eight doubles and 21 RBIs to help the Nationals to a World Series title. That netted Rendon a contract beating the average annual value of Nolan Arenado’s, his Gold Glove counterpart from the Colorado Rockies who signed an eight-year, $260-million extension this year.
The Dodgers were pessimistic about their chances to land Rendon. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is a fallback option in free agency. He will take a shorter contract, but an average annual value of at least $20 million.
The Dodgers didn’t make Anthony Rendon an offer, per sources. Their sense was he didn’t want to play in LA. Orange County apparently was a different story.— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) December 12, 2019
The trade market is less clear, but several possibilities are in the primes of elite careers. They include Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
The Cubs and Indians could also find themselves in dealings with the Angels, who now turn their attention back to adding at least one front-line pitcher and a strong defensive catcher. The Indians have two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, who was linked to the Angels by the Athletic. The Cubs have backstop Willson Contreras, who played for Maddon.
Granted a full no-trade clause in his contract, Rendon seals the revolving door that had persisted at third base for more than a decade. He and Trout will try to help the Angels end a playoff drought at five years and vault them back into the October spotlight.