So much for that.
Anthony Rendon always played like an angel in D.C. Now he’ll be an Angel in Anaheim, 2,662 miles away. If you start walking now, eight hours a day, you should just about have time to get to Disneyland by Opening Day. The way Nats fans feel about Rendon, some may try.
This is when baseball is tough on everybody. No one is to blame — or not very much. But no one, except Stephen Strasburg and maybe Rendon, who each signed seven-year, $245 million contracts — one Monday, one Wednesday — is happy. And don’t be too certain about Tony’s delight.
Nats fans will be miserable every time they hear Rendon’s name and think of what a nearly perfect player and teammate he was. His whole career is not on a Hall of Fame track. But his past three seasons have been at that level. So that’s how he’ll be remembered here a long time.
Oh, the Nats will compensate. Even if they don’t add another significant bat, they can hit Victor Robles at leadoff and watch him develop. His rookie year at 22 was better than Rendon’s at 23. Robles hit leadoff throughout the minors and always has projected at No. 1.
After Adam Eaton, you can put Trea Turner at No. 3 where a .298 hitter who slugged .497 last year should fit well enough. If he’d played 160 games last year (Turner played 162 in 2018), he’d have had 126 runs, 203 hits, 48 doubles, seven triples, 25 homers and 46 steals. Through his age 26 season, Turner has been better than Rendon, too.
Then Juan Soto and a platoon at first base with Kendrick-and-Best Available (maybe Ryan Zimmerman) fill out the No. 4 and 5 spots. The Nos. 6 and 7 spots would include top rookie Carter Kieboom, who would have started somewhere in 2020 no matter what, and a second baseman still to be named, perhaps an Asdrúbal Cabrera-Brian Dozier platoon with the familiar Kurt Suzuki-Yan Gomes tandem at catcher.
Go on, scream. Because it’s not the lineup you watched throughout October, your heart in your mouth as the chemistry — with Rendon and Soto as the core catalysts — created one thrilling comeback win after another. How long did that memory stay intact? Seven weeks.
Oh, sure, I understand it. That doesn’t mean I can’t hate that this is the way baseball sometimes works, with great success its own worst enemy.
In late September, after chatting with both Rendon and principal owner Mark Lerner, my view of offseason negotiations was “Strasburg, yes. Rendon, maybe.” But with a huge asterisk.
The worse the Nats played, and the worse Rendon and Strasburg performed in the playoffs, the better the chances they’d remain Nats. Bad would be good and vice versa.
Strasburg won World Series MVP. Rendon led all players with 15 RBI in October. Suddenly, the combined value of the two stars jumped by about $100 million. In a blink, the Nats were back where they were a year ago when they signed Patrick Corbin then built the rest of their best possible roster, but let Bryce Harper go. This time, the choice was sign either Strasburg or Rendon — but preferably Strasburg on a team built on starting pitching.
Someday, will we discover that Rendon didn’t quite grasp the parallels between himself and Harper? Would he be the man listening to Lerner wish him well in his future endeavors? Was he surprised to hear it was “Strasburg or Rendon,” then to see Strasburg sign Monday, including $80 million in deferred money? Agent Scott Boras got both Harper and Rendon a ton of cash. Did he get them where they wanted to be in their baseball heart of hearts? Wait for their memoirs.
If you think $300 million Manny Machado evaporated from view in San Diego last season, then prepare to feel bad for Rendon, whose footprints soon will disappear as the waves lap the SoCal shores.
Oh, Rendon and Mike Trout are together! Oh, baloney. The Angels (72-90) had no pitcher with even 96 innings last year. Mull over that.
The Angels also have $102 million in dead-weight deals to Albert Pujols, 39, and Justin Upton, who had a combined negative WAR of -0.5 in 710 at-bats last year.
What does one more superior hitter mean to an otherwise rotten team? Almost nothing. Ask the 1954-71 Senators about their home run champs.
Finally, the holiday spirits of the Lerners have a dent in them, too. They have lots of devoted fans who don’t want to hear about how billionaires can’t “afford” both Strasburg and Rendon because they would blow through the Competitive Balance Tax and pay millions, but not too many millions, in penalties, then perhaps be crimped in their roster-building at some unspecified future date.
Didn’t the New York Yankees, who were already over the $208 million CBT for next season, just sign Gerrit Cole for $324 million for nine years?
The Lerners don’t want to be the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or Cubs. Those four teams outdrew them at the gate by an average of 13,404 fans a game last year — almost 50 percent more — and at higher prices. They also have much higher regional sports network revenue.
The Lerners have spent 15 seasons figuring out how to do good business financially, and win games consistently, in D.C. They just won the World Series. They value rationality and sustained competitiveness most. They look for players who will take a “hometown discount” or deferred money, or both, such as Scherzer, Zimmerman and Strasburg.
Cold-blooded? Smart business?
For now, feel free to wallow in the loss of one of the most excellent and admirable players the Nats have had. He won’t be “replaced.” If the Nats turn to free agent Josh Donaldson they will be getting a star with fierce intensity, but one who is as hot and cocky as Rendon was cool and as abrasive to some teammates as Rendon was always warm milk.
In this century, reigning champs have lost Hall of Famers to free agency, such as Pudge Rodriguez, Pedro Martinez and eventually Pujols. But the loss of Rendon ranks right up there for coal-in-the-stocking blues.
The Nationals look like a probable playoff team again. When they must replace or extend Eaton, Aníbal Sánchez, Sean Doolittle, Kendrick and Suzuki after 2020, Scherzer after ’21, Turner after ’22 or Soto and Corbin after ’25, maybe the money not spent on Rendon will help. Or maybe not.
But for today, if you’re down in the dumps — even with a World Series parade fresh in mind, even after anticipating Rendon might leave, even with the reporting of pitchers and catchers just nine weeks away — it doesn’t mean you’re crazy.
You have company.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.
Read more Nationals coverage: