Spurned by the consensus top free agent in MLB’s 2020 class — pitcher Gerrit Cole, who signed with the Yankees late Tuesday — the Los Angeles Angels set their sights on the second-best free agent, and with better success. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported late Wednesday that third baseman Anthony Rendon had agreed to terms with the Angels, signing on for seven years and $245 million. Rendon is a legitimate star: According to wins above replacement (WAR),1 Rendon was the eighth-most valuable position player in MLB last season (with 6.7 WAR), and he ranks sixth over the past three seasons (18.2 WAR).
But the larger significance of Rendon’s signing lies in how good he is relative to the Angels’ biggest star of all — Mike Trout.
Trout won the American League MVP in 2019 and was the best player in baseball (as usual), with 8.4 WAR. He is easily the top player of his generation and one of the best in baseball history … but he still has yet to win a single playoff game in his career. Why? Mainly, Trout’s teammates have been historically bad, at least relative to Trout’s own greatness. If you think about it, it takes real work to get around 9 WAR per season from your best player and still somehow struggle to finish .500 most years.
So Trout deserves better support than he’s gotten thus far in his nine-year MLB career. Does Rendon fix that? Well, he won’t help the Angels’ horrendous starting rotation much (even if Rendon is a solid enough fielder at third base), but you can make that case that he will instantly be the best teammate of Trout’s career. The 6.7 WAR Rendon put up last season was easily higher than that of anyone who played alongside Trout in any of his full seasons (so, since 2012):
Of course, 2019 was a career year for Rendon, so naturally it would rank high on any list of seasons. But the average of 6.1 WAR per season that Rendon created over the past three years would also rank first on the list above.
Some of Trout’s fellow Angels have had promise — Shohei Ohtani has been a great hitter and a great pitcher when healthy, although his playing time has been limited early in his MLB career. The team has also spent plenty of money on other big-name stars (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton), but they mostly went bust upon arriving in Anaheim. As a result, Trout has never played with a teammate who ended up producing as much as Rendon has over the past few seasons.
While Los Angeles still has some room left to improve its roster even after adding Rendon, he certainly should temper Trout’s teammate troubles over the next handful of seasons. And given the dire state of Trout’s supporting cast in his career to date, that’s a big step in the right direction.