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Angels

Anthony Rendon should eliminate the Angels’ longstanding third base woes

Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon throws.
Anthony Rendon gives the Angels something they haven’t had since Troy Glaus was manning third base for the team more than 15 years ago.
(Elsa Garrison / Getty Images)

When Troy Glaus ripped a two-run double over the head of Barry Bonds in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, it didn’t just cap an Angels 6-5 come-from-behind win over the San Francisco Giants and practically cement series MVP honors for the Angels third baseman. It marked the end of an era.

That 2002 version of Glaus was the last time the Angels had a highly productive, prototypical power-hitting third baseman, a 17-year drought that should end with this week’s blockbuster signing of free agent Anthony Rendon, who was introduced an Angel Stadium news conference on Saturday.

Glaus averaged 36 homers and 94 RBIs a season from 1999-2002, including an American League-high 47 homers in 2000. Injuries limited him to 149 games in 2003 and 2004, and he left as a free agent before 2005.

In Glaus’ wake has been a trail of busted prospects such as Dallas McPherson and Brandon Wood, trades for mediocre players such as Alberto Callaspo and Yunel Escobar, a failed experiment in Mark Trumbo, an awful free-agent signing in Zack Cozart and a future Hall of Famer who signed elsewhere in Adrian Beltre.

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Chone Figgins, an Angels regular from 2004-2009, was the team’s most productive third baseman since Glaus, but he was a speedy leadoff man, not a power threat.

Since 2005, Angels third basemen have produced only one 20-homer season (21 in 2017) and eight double-digit homer seasons. They drove in more than 70 runs only twice (2007 and 2017) and produced an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of at least .750 just once (2009).

“A lot of the championship clubs have pretty good third basemen, I’ve noticed,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Saturday. “It’s interesting … when Arte [Moreno, Angels owner] and I talk baseball in general and about players in the game, it seems there’s this grouping of third basemen that he tends to talk about fairly regularly, and Anthony was one of them.

“I’m not going to say who the other ones are, but he realizes the importance of having impact tools at that position as well as the defense that you’re looking for at the hot corner. Anthony certainly checks all of those boxes.”

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Third baseman Anthony Rendon gives Mike Trout protection in the Angels’ batting order and and an elite infield. Addressing a weak the pitching staff is next.

The Angels thought they solved their third base woes in early 2011 when they were on the verge of a five-year deal with Beltre, the former Dodger who had a home in Los Angeles and preferred to play for the Angels.

But Moreno balked when agent Scott Boras asked for one more year, and Beltre signed a six-year, $96-million deal with Texas, where he hit .304 with an .865 OPS, 199 homers and 699 RBIs in eight seasons.

While future third base stars Nolan Arenado, Matt Chapman and Evan Longoria grew up within a half-hour drive of Anaheim, the Angels could not produce or acquire one power-hitting third baseman . . . until now.

Rendon, 29, hit .319 with a 1.010 OPS, 34 homers, 44 doubles and a major league-high 126 RBIs for the World Series champion Washington Nationals in 2019. He hit .299 with a .912 OPS, 103 homers, 167 doubles and 403 RBIs the past four seasons. He plays Gold Glove-caliber defense.

Boras, who also represents Rendon, chuckled when asked if he or Moreno brought up Beltre’s name in talks for Rendon.

“You know, I think that’s something that’s on both of our foreheads,” Boras said. “It represents something of what a player of that caliber, like a Rendon, like a Beltre, means to a franchise. … He’s really a rare major leaguer because he covers all bases.”

Rendon is everything the Angels have lacked at third base for almost two decades, but to better appreciate what Rendon will bring to the position, one need only reflect on what so many others failed to provide.

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The hot corner cooled quickly after Glaus left to sign a four-year, $45-million deal with Arizona in 2005. The Angels handed the job to McPherson, a strapping young slugger who had a 40-homer, 126-RBI minor league season in 2004.

“From a financial standpoint,” then-GM Bill Stoneman said, “McPherson fits better than Glaus.”

McPherson suffered a lower-back injury in the spring of 2005, was limited to 101 games in which he hit 15 homers with 104 strikeouts in two seasons and was released after 2006.

Wood was thought to be the answer after a 43-homer Class-A season in 2005 and a 25-homer double-A season in 2006 vaulted him to No. 3 on Baseball America’s prospect list.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said all 30 teams agreed to improve stadium safety. The Angels will add netting beyond the dugout by their home opener.

Wood slumped in his first big league stint in 2007 and was overwhelmed by the pressure to live up to lofty expectations. He bounced between triple A and the majors for five years, batting .168 with 153 strikeouts in 464 at-bats with the Angels. He was released in 2011 at age 26.

Figgins and Maicer Izturis helped fill the gaping voids left by McPherson and Wood, but both left as free agents, Figgins after 2009 and Izturis after 2012. Callaspo, acquired from Kansas City in July 2010 hit .263 with a .691 OPS, 23 homers and 148 RBIs in 423 games in three years with the Angels.

When the Angels signed first baseman Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240-million deal before 2012, they tried moving Trumbo, who hit 29 homers as a rookie first baseman in 2011, to third. Trumbo made two errors in his first game and made only eight starts there, with four errors.

Angels third baseman David Freese tags out Yankees baserunner Brett Gardner during a game in June 2015.
Angels third baseman David Freese tags out Yankees baserunner Brett Gardner during a game in June 2015.
(Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

The Angels acquired 2011 World Series hero David Freese from St. Louis before 2014. Freese was solid but not spectacular for two seasons, batting .258 with 24 homers and 111 RBIs.

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Next up was Escobar, acquired from Washington before 2016. Escobar hit for a high average but with virtually no power and was shaky on defense for two seasons.

Cozart, signed to a three-year, $38-million deal before 2018, was a disaster, batting .190 with five homers and 25 RBIs in 96 games in two injury-racked seasons before being traded to San Francisco last Tuesday. Utility man David Fletcher saw the most time at third last season, batting .290 with six homers.

And now along comes Tony . . .

Rendon, whose seven-year, $245-million contract is more than the Angels have guaranteed to any player except Mike Trout, won’t have big spikes to fill. Angels third basemen ranked last in the major leagues in OPS (.651), homers (13), RBIs (58) and doubles (23).

But he should provide a lethal blend of power, plate discipline and defense that will put a high-Glaus finish on a position that has vexed the Angels since a certain slugger helped them win a championship in 2002.

Angels third base production since the departure of Troy Glaus.

YEAR AVG OBP SLG HR RBIs

2005 .245 .306 .388 14 58

2006 .265 .330 .405 16 69

2007 .296 .358 .383 4 75

2008 .257 .336 .306 3 34

2009 .303 .396 .407 7 62

2010 .223 .266 .307 8 52

2011 .284 .354 .379 7 55

2012 .248 .321 .343 9 54

2013 .246 .304 .333 8 67

2014 .240 .300 .365 12 55

2015 .238 .302 .378 15 69

2016 .293 .342 .400 10 57

2017 .238 .318 .395 21 73

2018 .220 .278 .369 18 66

2019 .243 .306 .345 13 58

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