The phone call that made Anthony Rendon the Angels third baseman of the future interrupted lunch.
Rendon and his wife, Amanda, had taken a moment for themselves Wednesday, at the tail end of what had been a whirlwind two months. The Houston natives had criss-crossed the country in that time. First to Los Angeles, where Rendon’s Washington Nationals bounced the Dodgers from the playoffs in five early-October games; then to St. Louis and a four-game sweep for the National League pennant. Finally, the seven-game slog that yielded a World Series championship. Free agency followed, bringing with it marathon meetings in search of Rendon’s next playing destination.
Rendon, 29, was glad for Wednesday’s disruption. On the other line was his agent, Scott Boras, who was telling Rendon the Angels so coveted him they wanted to hammer out a deal quickly. By that evening, the particulars of a seven-year, $245-million contract had been agreed upon.
But the phone call that really set the arrival of Rendon at Angel Stadium into motion took place long ago, Angels owner Arte Moreno revealed Saturday at a news conference.
Moreno is a known baseball aficionado. General manager Billy Eppler has often witnessed Moreno’s love of the game.
“I’ll get a call at 4 in the afternoon and he’ll say, ‘Are you watching this game?’ ” said Eppler, who took over the Angels’ baseball operations in late 2015. “It might be a Baltimore-Tampa game. It might be a Washington-Philly game. He is just watching baseball.”
So when Moreno broached the subject of Rendon four years ago, Eppler was not surprised.
Rendon had crossed Moreno’s radar nearly a decade earlier, in the middle of the third baseman’s distinguished career at Rice University.
“The AD called me and said, ‘I got a player here that you need to see play,’” Moreno said.
Moreno’s affection swelled. He didn’t get the chance to draft Rendon — the third baseman went to the Nationals with the sixth overall selection in the 2011 draft, 11 picks before the Angels grabbed C.J. Cron — but he kept an eye on him.
Rendon’s name came up again last year, Eppler said, in a conversation conjuring a fantasy: If Rendon became a free agent after the 2019 season, he could be an Angel in 2020.
Moreno shared his intentions with Boras last Sunday in a meeting at Angel Stadium. Boras had begun the evening discussing the Angels’ interest in Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole, both of whom eventually signed elsewhere. Boras was stunned.
“I called Ant and told him, ‘This is kind of an unusual thing that Arte did. I’ve known him a long time and we see each other a lot so I’m just telling you I think his thoughts are sincere,’” Boras said.
“He’s a straight shooter, is what Scott was saying, and he doesn’t beat around the bush,” said Rendon, who was lured to Anaheim in part because of the calm, family atmosphere Orange County and the Angels provided. “He said he’s going to go after something and he’s going to let you know.”
Moreno has always placed a premium on position players. His first splashy move as an owner was signing outfielder Vladimir Guerrero to a five-year, $70-million contract. Guerrero assembled the bulk of his Hall of Fame career in Anaheim.
Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million) and Josh Hamilton (five years, $125 million) were other beneficiaries.Pujols has never produced an MVP-caliber season and Hamilton flopped.
There are no indications that Rendon will slow down anytime soon. He uses the same short, quick swing he had at 10 years old. He is selective in the batter’s box.
He approaches every situation so calmly that the pressure of a moment doesn’t bother him. He was caught yawning in the dugout during this year’s wild-card game, with the Nationals trailing 3-1 in the eighth inning; about 15 minutes later, he was crossing the plate with the go-ahead run.
Rendon had spent several seasons quietly beefing up his resume in the shadow of Bryce Harper , whose departure last season allowed Rendon to take center stage. He finished the season with 117 runs, 126 runs batted in and a 1.010 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, all career highs. The last player to post those numbers was Pujols in 2009.
Unlike Pujols before him, Rendon is in the prime of his career. He spent a few years rocketing toward the top of the leaderboards and finished third in most-valuable-player balloting after batting .319 with 44 doubles and 34 home runs last season.
Moreno has never been a passive owner. At times, his passion has come at a cost. It still might, especially if the Angels do not acquire a front-line pitcher or two.
But under an overcast sky, Moreno could sit comfortably on a dais set in Angel Stadium and feel more assured of his commitment than perhaps he has felt with anyone other than three-time MVP Mike Trout, who signed a $426-million contract this year.