ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Los Angeles Dodgers approached this year’s winter meetings with striking aggression but nonetheless whiffed on the two biggest prizes in free agency. They offered Gerrit Cole a contract that reached $300 million but watched him join the New York Yankees on a record deal. They expressed interest in Anthony Rendon but learned that the sentiment wasn’t mutual.
Instead, Rendon joined the Los Angeles Angels, who play 30 miles south in Anaheim, located outside of Los Angeles County.
Rendon, speaking during his introductory news conference on Saturday, spoke highly of the Dodgers organizationally but said from the podium that “the Hollywood lifestyle” of L.A. “didn’t seem like it would be a fit for us as a family.” Later, in a smaller scrum, Rendon, who was born and raised in Houston, was asked about his general hesitancy toward the state of California at the onset of the offseason, and he joked about the high tax rate.
“I just think environment itself,” Rendon continued. “I think when people think about California, they think about straight Hollywood, that Hollywood glamour, whole bunch of flashes, so much paparazzi. But everyone said it’s just the complete opposite here.”
Rendon, also pursued by the Texas Rangers, agreed on a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Angels on Wednesday, putting him on the same roster as Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Albert Pujols.
The Angels had — and still have — a desperate need for frontline starting pitching and joined the Yankees and Dodgers in an aggressive pursuit of Cole. Angels owner Arte Moreno met with Cole along with Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, and some of Boras’ representatives at Angel Stadium on Sunday, before the start of the winter meetings from the San Diego. When the meeting concluded, Moreno asked Boras to stay for a one-on-one conversation. Moreno told Boras, also Rendon’s agent, that Rendon was his prime target. He wanted Rendon to know he was wanted and that he embodied what Moreno considered emblematic of the Angels’ brand.
“When I told Anthony that,” Boras said, “I think it had a large impact on his decision-making.”
Moreno is an ardent baseball fan. Angels general manager Billy Eppler recalled often calling him in the middle of the afternoon to notify Moreno about a roster move and being asked, with particular excitement, “Are you watching this game?” Eppler never knew which one.
Asked when he learned about Moreno’s affinity for Rendon, Eppler chuckled.
“I don’t know,” he said, “four years ago?”
Actually, it was longer than that. Moreno had been hearing about Rendon since his days at Rice University and had followed his path through the majors as he established himself among the game’s best all-around players. When Cole agreed to a nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees on Tuesday night, the Angels immediately shifted their focus to Rendon. By late Wednesday morning, they basically had a deal in place. Later that night, it was done.
Trout reached out to Rendon shortly thereafter.
“Based on the exclamation points in his texts,” Rendon said, “he seemed really excited.”
Trout is one of only three position players who have accumulated more FanGraphs wins above replacement than Rendon over the past four years, along with Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich. During 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 26 RBIs for the Washington Nationals, who basically lost their chance of re-signing him when they gave Stephen Strasburg the same seven-year, $245 million contract.
The Angels have informed Rendon they will add to their starting rotation and are major players in both the trade and free-agent markets, eyeing names such as Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel and Corey Kluber. Rendon didn’t necessarily play a position of need, but the Angels wanted to remain flexible with regard to adding impact talent.
“That’s one of the primary elements of roster construction: If you’re not flexible, you can find yourself left out in the cold,” Eppler said. “We identified a few players that we felt brought a lot of certainty and impact in this free-agent market. Anthony was clearly one of those players.”
Rendon’s deal came nine months after Moreno signed Trout to a nine-year, $426.5 million extension, which made the Angels the first team with two players averaging $35 million in annual earnings. The Angels are coming off a 90-loss season and are 10 years removed from their last postseason victory. But their moves this offseason — adding Joe Maddon as their manager, signing Rendon and staying aggressive on pitching — make it clear they’re eyeing contention.
“I think he made a commitment to Mike,” Boras said of Moreno, “and Anthony was a big part of fulfilling that commitment.”