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 instead. 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 they hope will kick-start another dominant run of contention, the Angels made their amends, signing superstar third baseman Anthony Rendon, the best available position player by a wide margin, to 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 out the Rangers, who were motivated to add a superstar free agent to help christen their new ballpark, and the crosstown 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 when Cole spurned them for the New York Yankees, the Angels instead 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 prospect who projects as a perennial All-Star.
The starting pitching might now come via trade. Angels general manager Billy Eppler, speaking a few hours before getting serious in his negotiation for Rendon, said his phone has been “ringing a lot” with teams interested in their young, controllable, major league-ready players, a group headlined by starting pitcher Griffin Canning and infielder David Fletcher. Eppler could use either of those two — or Luis Rengifo, Matt Thaiss, Patrick Sandoval or Jose Suarez — to acquire someone who could serve either as a No. 1 or 2 starter via trade.
Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians, Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs and David Price of the Boston Red Sox are the big names available, but more conservative options like Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Matthew Boyd of the Detroit Tigers exist.
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. Considering the Angels began Wednesday roughly $70 million below the 2020 luxury-tax threshold, they might also be able to acquire a free-agent starter like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner or Dallas Keuchel.
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 window. They made a promise to Trout, who eschewed free agency to sign a 12-year, $426.5 million extension despite barely ever sniffing October relevance. And they made a promise to Maddon, who chose to return to the organization despite having his pick of whichever managing job he wanted. They 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 over the last four years. During that stretch, from 2016 to 2019, Rendon batted .299/.384/.528, averaging 26 home runs and 101 RBIs. Last year, 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, but 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 turn of events will probably turn out much better.