SAN DIEGO — It was nearly a decade ago that the Los Angeles Angels missed out on the third baseman they so desperately coveted. Their owner, Arte Moreno, made a strong push for Adrian Beltre following the 2010 season, only to see him choose the division-rival Texas Rangers. It proved to be a devastating blow. The Rangers made the playoffs in four of the next six seasons, advancing all the way to the World Series. The Angels didn’t win a single postseason game, and Beltre terrorized them at every opportunity.
On Wednesday, in the thick of an offseason that they hope will kick-start a dominant run of contention, the Angels made their amends by agreeing with superstar third baseman Anthony Rendon, the best available position player by a wide margin, on a seven-year, $245 million contract, as reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
The signing came one day after they finished a distant third for star pitcher Gerrit Cole. For Rendon, the Angels beat the Rangers, who were motivated to add a superstar free agent to help christen their new ballpark, and the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, who were forced to come to the realization that Rendon was not necessarily interested in playing for them.
The Angels began the offseason with a desperate need for pitching. But rather than shift their focus to the next tier of free-agent starters after Cole spurned them for the New York Yankees, the Angels turned to the next available impact player: Rendon, who makes their lineup fierce. He’ll join Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton and Albert Pujols and, eventually, Jo Adell, the promising outfield prospect who projects as a perennial All-Star.
Possible LAA lineup, with Fletcher’s role to be flushed out,and star prospect Jo Adell emerging:
La Stella/Fletcher 2B
Mike Trout CF
Shohei Ohtani DH
Anthony Rendon 3B
Justin Upton LF
Albert Pujols 1B
Jo Adell RF
Max Stassi C
Andrelton Simmons SS
Should be one of best AL lineups.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 12, 2019
Now, with Rendon locked up, the Angels can shift their focus to starting pitching. They began Wednesday roughly $70 million below the 2020 luxury tax threshold and are very much in play for the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel. They are also very much interested in engaging the Cleveland Indians in a trade for two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, though others — such as David Price of the Boston Red Sox or Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs — also might be options.
The key is to acquire front-line starters without parting with Adell. Angels general manager Billy Eppler, speaking a few hours before he got serious in his negotiations for Rendon, said his phone has been “ringing a lot” with teams interested in the Angels’ young, controllable, major-league-ready players, a group headlined by starting pitcher Griffin Canning and infielder David Fletcher.
The Angels also need catchers, and Eppler said he was engaged on up to four of them via free agency and another two on the trade front, one of whom is presumably Willson Contreras, who spent the past four years playing under new Angels manager Joe Maddon in Chicago.
In short, the Angels want to win, they know there is a sizable gap to make up, and they’re willing to do what it takes to accelerate their timeline. They made a promise to Trout, who eschewed free agency to sign a 12-year, $426.5 million extension, despite barely sniffing October relevance. And the Angels made a promise to Maddon, who chose to return to the organization, despite having his pick of managing jobs. The Angels told them they were going to do what it takes to compete. And with the Houston Astros engulfed in a sign-stealing scandal that could yield significant punishment, perhaps now is as good a time as any to take the leap.
Only Trout, Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich have been worth more FanGraphs wins above replacement than Rendon, 29, over the past four season. In that stretch, from 2016 to 2019, Rendon batted .299/.384/.528, averaging 26 home runs and 101 RBIs. Last season, which ended in World Series triumph, he broke out, finishing third in National League MVP voting after batting .319/.412/.598 with 34 home runs and 126 RBIs for the Washington Nationals. His OPS was 1.010, 359 points higher than what Angels third basemen combined to produce.
The Angels perceivably needed pitching coming into this offseason, and instead they got a bat, which has proven to be Moreno’s preference. They did the same seven years ago, when they basically dismissed the possibility of signing Zack Greinke and instead made a shocking addition in Josh Hamilton.
This circumstance will probably turn out much better.