By: Joe Pohoryles
The 2020 MLB season is a few months away, and while fans will be celebrating the Nationals’ World Series title all summer long until it must be defended next October, a major piece of that championship team will not be here for the party.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon was the team’s best positional player, and arguably the best overall. In 2019, he was an NL MVP finalist, he led the majors in RBI, and was selected to the inaugural All-MLB First Team. He provided clutch hitting and stellar defense through the season and the playoff run.
But after he refused to sign the seven-year, $210-215 million contract offered by the Nats earlier this season, he entered free agency, eventually agreeing to a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels near the beginning of free agency, and just like that, Tony Two Bags was out the door.
With a roster looking to repeat, in a division where their rivals have made moves looking to take the next step, a suitable replacement is crucial if the Nats want to make the playoffs. Nobody will be able to fully replace Rendon, but as of right now, the team essentially has three options. In three separate installments, I will evaluate these three options, so here is Part 2:
If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Option 2: Trade for a high-end replacement
If the Nats miss out on Josh Donaldson in free agency, the only other way to get a new third baseman similar to Rendon’s caliber is to trade for one. The most obvious name that comes to mind is the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant, who reportedly is on the trade block.
Bryant was an All-Star in 2019 for the first time since his sophomore campaign in 2016 , where he earned NL MVP. He hit 31 home runs and 77 RBI with a solid .282 BA (in-line with his .284 career average) this past season. Although he struck out 145 times (compared to Rendon’s 86), Bryant is entering his age 28 season and should be far from declining. Plugging him into the line-up would make him a fantastic long-term solution at third base, depending on whether they could re-up on a contract.
Bryant is set to make $18.5 million in 2020, well below Rendon’s AAV of $35 million. However, he’ll hit his fourth year of arbitration in 2021, then become a free agent before the 2022 season. Whether the Nats would be willing to negotiate a long-term deal is irrelevant if they can’t even afford to land his services, which is a real possibility.
The price of a former MVP still in his prime is clearly steep, and the Nats are not the only team with interest. Currently, the Nats have just two of the top 100 MLB prospects. One of them, INF Carter Kieboom, is expected to be in the Nats’ lineup Opening Day. He’s not going anywhere.
The other, INF Luis Garcia, is just 19 and has loads of potential. With the Nats’ relatively weak farm system, Garcia would likely have to be involved in the deal. The Cubs also inquired about starting CF Victor Robles when the Nats approached them during the winter meetings, an idea that was quickly shot down.
Top 100 prospects among potential Kris Bryant trade destinations
The Nats don’t seem willing to give up the players necessary for a deal to get done, and even then it may not be enough, as there are other interested teams with more to offer. In my opinion, giving up Garcia and Robles would not be worth it anyway, especially if the front office would be reluctant to give Bryant a long-term deal.
Bryant to the Nats does not appear to be realistic. The other trade options are extremely limited. The Seattle Mariners’ Kyle Seager is also reportedly on the trade block, and while the 32-year-old will not command as high a price tag, the upside is much too low to warrant giving up anyone of value for him.
Perhaps there will be a surprise trade candidate to explore before the season starts, but it appears the Nats have neither the resources nor the will to trade for someone close to Rendon’s ability. I don’t see this option coming to fruition, but it’s certainly worth evaluating.
Projected infield in this scenario:
1B: Ryan Zimmerman*/Howie Kendrick
2B: Carter Kieboom
SS: Trea Turner
3B: Kris Bryant/Kyle Seager/Mystery trade candidate
*=currently free agent