After losing Rendon, the Nationals decided to roll the dice with bolstering their infield depth and calling up Carter Kieboom. Did they make the right decision at third?
Entering the 2019 off-season, the Nationals were on top of the MLB world, having just won the World Series. While the fans and team celebrated, the front office was facing a crossroads. Stars Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg were both free agents and in line for massive paydays. The Nats decided to re-sign Strasburg and let Rendon walk, despite having the money to bring back both. Rendon went on to sign with the Los Angelos Angels, leaving the Nats with a huge void at third.
Despite this, the Nationals were not fazed due to the number of options at third, be it free agency, in house talent, or the trade market. Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas were both free agents while top talents Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado were on the trade block. Instead, the Nationals chose to sign Starlin Castro and re-signed Asdrubal Cabrera in addition to relying on top prospect Carter Kieboom. Without being able to adequately replace Rendon’s bat in the lineup, the offense will take a step back. Did the front office make the right decision at third?
A look at the different options
Below is the 2019 stats for some of the top options the Nationals had at third base.
Asdrubal Cabrera: .260 BA/18 HR/91 RBIs/.783 OPS/98 wRC+
Antony Rendon: .319 BA/34 HR/126 RBIs/1.010 OPS/154 wRC+
Carter Kieboom’s 2019 Call Up: .128 BA/2 HR/ 2 RBIs/.491 OPS/17 wRC+
Kieboom’s Stats at Triple A: .303 BA/16 HR/79 RBIs/.902 OPS /123 wRC+
Josh Donaldson: .259 BA/37 HR/94 RBIs/.900 OPS/132 wRC+
Kris Bryant: .282 BA/31 HR/77 RBIs/.903 OPS/135 wRC+
Mike Moustakas: .254 BA/35 HR/87 RBIs/.845 OPS/113 wRC+
Nolan Arenado: .315 BA/41 HR/118 RBIs/.962 OPS/128 wRC+
Starlin Castro: .270 BA/22 HR/86 RBIs/.736 OPS/91 wRC+
Rendon had a career year in 2019 and was rewarded by the Angels with a seven-year deal worth $245 million. After he left, the Nats weighed their options and were heavily involved in the Donaldson sweepstakes. The team offered him a four-year deal in the 100 million dollar range. Instead “The Bringer of Rain” decided to leave the NL East for the Minnesota Twins on a four-year deal worth $92 million, with a fifth-year option. While Donaldson had a bounce-back season, the Nationals may have caught a break. After appearing in an average of 157 games a year from 2013-2016, Donaldson only played in 113 and 52 games in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The veteran is entering his age 34 season and will need to prove injuries are behind him. While he would have filled the void Rendon left behind, the back end of the contract might not be worth it. He will be making $16 million in his age 38 season.
While the Nats were waiting to hear back from Donaldson, another big fish found a new team. After a solid campaign with the Brewers, Moustakas finally got the long term deal he was looking for. He signed with the Cincinnati Reds on a four-year deal worth $64 million. It is unclear if the Nats were in on Moustakas, but his bat would have been welcomed.
After losing Rendon, the next available option was the trade market. Nolan Arenado had become upset with the Rockies after a disappointing 2019 season. And while he was the only third baseman available on the same level of Rendon, he had already signed a massive extension. He has seven years left on his contract worth $234 million. If the Nats wanted to pay that much money, they would have given it to Rendon. Another problem with trading for Arenado was the asking price. The Rockies were asking for Victor Robles as a conversation starter, and Washington’s front office made it clear he wasn’t available. Kris Bryant was also made available due to the Cubs wanting to cut payroll. Similar to the Rockies, the Cubs wanted Robles in addition to other prospects. Trade talks have since ended.
As Donaldson was still making a decision, the Nationals decided to stop waiting around and re-signed Cabrera and brought in four-time All-Star Starlin Castro for infield depth. It seemed the Nats were set on handing the hot corner to prospect Carter Kieboom. Kieboom struggled mightily in his 2019 call up. However, when he was sent back down to Triple-A, he showed his immense potential. Kieboom is a natural shortstop and needs more time to develop his skills at third. Cabrera is seen as a stop-gag in till Kieboom is deemed ready to take over. Cabrera started the beginning of the 2019 season with the Texas Rangers before they released him. The Nats signed him and he immediately took over for Brian Dozier at second. In 38 games with the Nats, he hit .323, with six homers, and 40 RBIs. Don’t expect Cabrera to continue his late-season dominance. He was cut by the Rangers for a reason and cooled off immensely in the playoffs.
Did the Nationals make the right decision?
Losing Rendon hurts. Plain and simple. He was homegrown talent and helped bring a World Series title to D.C. The front office decided against paying both Rendon and Strasburg. Instead, they rolled the dice on bolstering their infield depth by bringing back Asdrubal Cabrera and signing Starlin Castro. The Nats plan on eventually handing the third base reigns over to Kieboom. Kieboom showed in Spring Training he is not yet ready to take over as the starter and needs to work on his defense at the hot corner. The Nats are hoping their overall depth can make up for the loss of Rendon’s production.
If Donaldson can avoid the injury bug that plagued him from 2017-2018, then the Nats might regret missing out on him. While Bryant and Arenado are two of the best at their position, the asking price is currently too high. If the Nats can work out a deal without involving Robles, something might come to fruition.
Overall the Nats are taking a huge risk by not chasing a known commodity and betting the future on Kieboom. Cabrera and Castro impressive depth, but it might not be enough.