Rendon, 29, was in the Nationals’ plans until he hit the free agent market this offseason. The sides couldn’t agree upon a deal during this past year despite multiple rounds of negotiations, and that left the Angels to sign one of the best third basemen in baseball. Rendon finished third in MVP voting last season and across seven years in Washington established himself as one of the major leagues’ most consistent hitters. He departs for Anaheim just two days after the Nationals signed right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the other key free agent off their championship club, also to a seven-year deal worth $245 million.
The Strasburg signing made it seem like a long shot for the Nationals to sign Rendon, who was always expected to receive a massive contract. Rendon was being pursued by the Angels, Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers as recently as this week, according to people with knowledge of his free agency, but the Nationals wound up on the outside looking in. Their last public offer was for seven years and between $210 million and $215 million in early September, but Rendon was turned off by the amount of deferred money in that proposal, according to a person with knowledge of the terms and Rendon’s thinking. He was, in turn, drawn to the Angels’ willingness to pay the contract’s full value by its conclusion in 2026.
From the beginning of negotiations, Rendon’s agent, Scott Boras, was set on making him baseball’s highest-paid third baseman. That meant beating the eight-year, $260 million extension that Nolan Arenado signed with the Colorado Rockies last spring. Rendon now has a higher average annual value than Arenado — by $2.5 million — and joins Mike Trout at the heart of Anaheim’s future. Trout, baseball’s best player, has long needed a companion in the Angels’ lineup.
Over the past four seasons, Trout and Rendon rank first and fourth, respectively, in wins above replacement, a statistic that measures a player’s overall value to a team. They are the only two position players to have six or more wins above replacement in each of the past three years.
With the Nationals needing a replacement at third for Rendon, their attention will shift to Josh Donaldson. They have maintained interest in Donaldson for the past month or so, and were always ready to pivot to him if Rendon landed elsewhere. Donaldson made $23 million on a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves in 2019 and hit 37 homers while driving in 94 runs. He is expected to command an average annual salary of around $25 million. The 2015 American League MVP is seeking a three-to-four-year deal, according to reports, and the Nationals have financial flexibility with Rendon off the payroll.
This is the second straight offseason that a homegrown star departed Washington in free agency. The Nationals lost Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies last spring, and Rendon’s deal with the Angels ends a career-long tenure in Washington. The Nationals drafted him with the sixth pick in 2011 and helped develop him into a career talent. That ultimately meant he was too expensive for their preferred spending habits.
Harper’s exit was soon buried by a title that happened, in part, because the Nationals had young players such as Juan Soto and Victor Robles to overcome his absence in the outfield and the lineup. The same type of insurance does not exist for Rendon. The Nationals will be busy trying to find it and make sure that Rendon leaving, for the farthest franchise he could choose, doesn’t sting for years to come.
Rendon’s brightest moments with Washington will always be from the title run. He hit the first of back-to-back homers off Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, kick-starting a late comeback. He homered off Zack Greinke in Game 7 of the World Series, when the Nationals look finished, when they were eight outs away from losing it all, and just shrugged his shoulders before touching home plate. And once they edged the Astros in Houston, Manager Dave Martinez handed Rendon the World Series trophy at the center of the visitors’ clubhouse inside Minute Maid Park.
Rendon had paced the Nationals to a championship in his hometown. He was their best offensive player, a human metronome in the middle of their order, a big reason a miracle turnaround ended with history. So it was fitting, maybe even necessary, that he held the trophy in the air, a shy smile on his face, while everyone doused him in the first drops of celebratory champagne.
That will stand as one of the last moments they all shared together. The Nationals visit the Angels for a three-game series in May, and Rendon will be playing for the other team.