Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo was clear when he spoke at WinterFest earlier this month that you’re not going to easily replace what Anthony Rendon brought to the Nats’ roster during his seven seasons in D.C., but when the 29-year-old third baseman took his talent to California, signing a 7-year/$245M free agent deal with the Los Angeles Angels, Rizzo and the rest of the defending World Series champs were left with no choice but to move on.
“Of course you’re not going to replicate or replace Anthony Rendon, his numbers on the field, his presence in the clubhouse, and the things he does in the community, but we’re going to be a different team,” Rizzo said.
“I think we’re going to be a very competitive team, and our goals haven’t changed, we’re here to win a World Series and that’s going to be our focus.”
Rizzo, of course, drafted Rendon with the sixth overall pick in first round of the 2011 Draft, and helped oversee the development of the third baseman, who wrapped up his time in the nation’s capital with an impressive .319/.412/.598 season in 2019, which saw him put up 44 doubles, 34 homers, 117 runs, 126 RBIs, 154 wRC+, 80 walks, and 86 Ks over 146 games and 646 plate appearances in a 7.0 fWAR regular season.
Rendon followed up on that big campaign with a solid postseason run (.328/.413/.590 line, seven doubles, and three home runs in 17 games) on the way to the Nationals’ World Series win.
“Certainly replacing Anthony Rendon, you really can’t do,” Hitting Coach Kevin Long said, while noting that the Nationals have re-signed some players and added others to the mix they feel will help keep them competitive.
“Asdrúbal Cabrera is really good,” Long continued. “Eric Thames is a very quality hitter, and our outfield is solidified, they’re very good there, and Trea Turner has got a year under his belt and he’s actually going to be healthy with a healthy finger, and Adam Eaton, what he can do, that’s a special lineup and a special group of guys. But I think the message is don’t try to be Anthony Rendon, just be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be and we’ll be fine.”
Having lost a bat like Bryce Harper’s the previous offseason, the Nationals know what it’s like to move on and work to overcome this sort of loss.
“I truly believe that we can learn from that,” Long said, “and we can learn what we can all do as individuals and as a unit if we kind of pull together.
“So, losing Bryce was not an easy task, but we were able to do that, we were able to fill that void, and we’re going to have to do it this year. We’ll figure it out, but I know our guys are up to it, and I know they’re up to the challenge, and I know that the men in that room and the people that we’ve signed are capable of doing that and I think we will.”
Juan Soto, who spent the majority of the last season hitting behind Rendon in the middle of the Nats’ lineup, said he would miss his now-former teammate, but you have to move on.
“[Rendon] was a really good piece, but like I said with Harper, it’s not just one player,” Soto said.
“It’s about a team. The best team is the one who wins. I feel really bad because he’s gone, but we’ve got to keep going, we’ve got to keep our heads up and keep playing baseball.”
“It’s going to be different not having Tony,” Trea Turner, one of Rendon’s best friends on the team, told reporters, “but for me I think it’s nice to have those veterans. Those veterans that can go through a long season, all those ups and downs. We had it last year, and I think that’s definitely a reason why we won, especially coming from where we came from with that bad start.
“I think you need those guys are your team, and I love the guys that we’ve signed, I think they’re going to contribute a lot and looking forward to getting to know them and meet them and go to battle.”
That’s not to downplay the significance of the loss of Rendon, of course, which closer Sean Doolittle acknowledged.
“It’s big,” he said.
As for how they’ll adjust?
“Time will tell, I think,” Doolittle said. “Because I think he did a lot of things for our team, for our lineup that maybe you can’t quantify. Just kind of the player that he was, the teammate that he was. What his presence did. Just his presence in the middle of the lineup alone really kind of changes the dynamic for us from an offensive standpoint. We’re going to need guys to step up, but I think, like I said, we’ve done a good job of really starting to address some signings that — we can pick up the slack. We’re going to miss him for sure.”
If he had to leave though, at least he went to the other league, and the other coast, so there won’t be constant reminders of his absence.
“Fortunately he went to the American League and to the American League West,” Doolittle sort-of joked. “We don’t have to see him very much. As a pitcher I texted him that I really, really appreciated that. I said, ‘If you weren’t going to sign with us, at least I don’t have to face you regularly.’ So you know, I don’t know. It’s tough. We would have loved to have him back, but we know there’s lots of moving pieces, and that’s the business side of things, unfortunately.”