SAN DIEGO -- "One or the other" is no longer a suggestion. It’s reality.
Anthony Rendon has left. He reportedly signed a seven-year, $245 million deal on Wednesday with the Los Angeles Angels. His time with the Nationals is over after 10 years in the organization.
Rendon’s contract would have pushed the Nationals past the competitive balance tax. The $208 million threshold remains a barrier for the organization. In this case, it forces a pivot.
Josh Donaldson is the only high-end third baseman remaining on the free agent market. Washington needs him, and Rendon’s departure just raised the price. Donaldson’s contract terms will be shorter and more palatable -- think four years, $100 million -- but he is not Rendon in both skill and personality.
So, gone is a 2019 MVP finalist who was also finally named an All-Star. He is a World Series champion. He was an affable teammate and pleasant presence at the Nationals’ baseball youth academy. For seven years, he was the Nationals’ third baseman and among the best in the league at the position.
Rendon’s best season came along with the team’s, turning 2019 into a wondrous outcome both personally and professionally. Rendon set career-highs in WAR, OPS-plus, home runs, RBIs and total bases. His defense at third was again Gold-Glove caliber. All the while, he moved toward free agency, his future uncertain but the unknown also leaving him unfazed.
He joins Bryce Harper as homegrown products to depart via free agency. The Nationals climbed from new organization trying to find their way to powerful major-league force because of player development. Now, as the defending World Series champion, Washington is fighting the battles of retainment. Major League Baseball’s system allows suppressive salaries to start careers. Eventually, the best players need to be paid somewhere. For Rendon, that turned out to be outside of Washington.
Rendon leaving will be part of the Lerner’s legacy as owners -- just like Harper moving on. Washington’s franchise carries one of the league’s highest valuations. Its ownership group is among the richest in baseball. They spend a lot annually. However, they stop short of excess. The model has served them well thus far.
But, Rendon leaving is different than Harper moving on. Washington had a clear succession plan in place when Harper left. This will be a scramble to a short-term solution. They will still have to pay in prospects or cash. No one in-house is ready to handle the position. Which brings a question of value.
Ultimately, the Nationals saw more value in Stephen Strasburg. The amount offered to him -- deferred money aside for the moment -- is close to what was necessary for Rendon. Managing principal owner Mark Lerner stated it was one or the other. He turned out to be telling the truth, then following through with an early choice.
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