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 Orange County native Gerrit Cole.
One solution was crystallized mere hours later. The Angels came to an agreement with free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon on a seven-year, $245-million contract, according to a person familiar with the negotiation. The move further protects three-time MVP Mike Trout in the Angels 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 and was considered the top position player on the market. He had his choice of suitors, including the Dodgers, after declining the Washington Nationals’ reported offer of seven years and over $200 million at the end of the season.
The Texas Rangers had hoped Rendon, a Texas native raised in Houston, would sign with them out of a desire to play close to home. Rendon, like fellow Scott Boras client Cole, did not care about geography and ruled the Rangers out.
He was instead pulled to Anaheim, where Angels owner Arte Moreno has drawn other big-name free-agent position players such as Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
Rendon will not fill the void atop the Angels’ starting 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 relied on 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 bat with 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 named an All-Star for the first time. He finished seventh in the majors with 7.0 Wins Above Replacement and third in National League MVP voting.
He continued his elite performance in the playoffs, batting .328 with five home runs, eight doubles and 21 runs batted in to help guide the Nationals to a championship.
Rendon ultimately landed on an Angels team that shipped its high-priced and injury-riddled veteran infielder, Zack Cozart, to the San Francisco Giants a day earlier.
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 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.