When you are as successful as the Washington Nationals, and as good at replenishing your roster with talent as they are, apparently this is the cost of doing business.
For the second straight winter, the Nats have let an elite player walk in free agency. First, it was Bryce Harper, who left to join the Phillies. This time it is Anthony Rendon, who has signed a seven-year contract worth $245 million to play for the Los Angeles Angels.
Both entered free agency as the best position players on the market, perennial MVP candidates who could someday make the Hall of Fame. But the Nationals don't pay position players, they pay starting pitchers and that blueprint helped them win the World Series just six weeks ago.
The fact Rendon got an identical contract from the Angels that Stephen Strasburg did from Washington solidifies the fact they had to choose between them on equal footing. One was not cheaper than the other, this was about big-picture philosophy. This was ownership giving general manager Mike Rizzo a budget and him choosing to allocate money in his rotation and not in his lineup.
Rizzo, of course, has now been a part of two World Series teams that employed that strategy, if you include his days as the scouting director in Arizona. They won the 2001 title and did so with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling leading the way.
The Nationals' decisions to let Harper and Rendon walk should be viewed through that lens. And they should also be stowed away for future reference.
Surely, the idea of letting one player walk to sign another can't be cited ever again. Just because they didn't pay Harper didn't mean they would pay Rendon, and we should know better when looking ahead to Juan Soto, Trea Turner and others.
Those are the main takeaways from Rendon's departure from a baseball perspective, which is the way Rizzo and his front office are paid to view things. But certainly hammering home those details will only do so much to make Nationals fans feel better as they watch another homegrown, likeable star venture off to another team.
What Nationals fans have experienced in these two cases, both within 10 months of each other, is not normal. To lose two players of this caliber in consecutive offseasons is a uniquely tough pill to swallow. That's a lot of jerseys that won't be worn anymore.
Few fanbases have been fortunate enough in recent years to even have two players as good as Harper and Rendon on the same team at the same time. That extends to having them leave. Usually, players as good as they are don't go elsewhere and, if they do, it is because they play for small market teams with low payrolls, and often their exits feel inevitable.
The Nationals aren't a small market team and, as much as some fans might argue, they aren't cheap. But they have acquired so much talent over the past 10 years that they simply can't keep them all.
So, in a way, it can be seen as a good thing. Harper and Rendon left in part because the Nats have a surplus of talent. And, in true Rizzo form, they have replacements waiting in the wings.
When Harper dipped for Philly, there were questions of whether Soto and Victor Robles could replace his production. They not only stepped up to mitigate the loss, but Soto is now by most accounts even better than Harper.
With Rendon now gone, the Nats can turn to Carter Kieboom. He may not play third base, but he's an infielder and a right-handed batter who hits for average and power. He's a top-20 MLB prospect and last season hit .303 with a .902 OPS in Triple-A.
Harper and Rendon aren't the first stars to leave their team in free agency, and Rendon isn't the first to jump ship right after winning a World Series. In L.A., he will join arguably the most famous case of that, Albert Pujols who after winning a title with the Cardinals in 2011 left to sign with the Angels.
Nationals fans should just take solace in the fact the team's front office is always thinking ahead. Plenty of talent remains on the roster and reinforcements are on the way.
Just like how fans became further attached to Rendon when Harper left, it's time to do the same with Soto or someone else. As the churn continues, enjoy them while they last.
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