The most coveted position player hitting the open market this winter is undoubtedly third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Rendon's expected price tag - and the fact a compensatory draft pick must be surrendered upon signing him - will eliminate a handful of suitors outright. Don't expect a rebuilding club (Tigers, Royals, Mariners) or small-market contender (Rays, Athletics) to take a run at the 29-year-old superstar. Instead, it will be the usual suspects lining up to break the bank and hand Rendon an extremely lucrative contract.
After finishing in the top three in MVP voting for the first time in his career, Rendon will parlay an exceptional 2019 campaign plus a generally consistent resume into a monster deal.
Here are seven teams that could realistically push to sign the All-Star third baseman.
The most obvious home for Rendon is where he's most familiar. The Nationals elected to set Bryce Harper and his massive salary free last offseason, but that isn't predictive of how they'll treat Rendon. With Harper gone, the Nationals were able to invest more in the rotation by signing Patrick Corbin and still managed to put together a reliable big-league outfield. But if Rendon jumps ship, there isn't an obvious, in-house fix.
Carter Kieboom is intriguing, but he should be the team's second baseman of the future. Should they lose Rendon, the Nationals will have to look to other free agents - Josh Donaldson, Mike Moustakas, etc. - or pursue a trade. Regardless of the cost, keeping Rendon is more appealing than either of those options. But the Nats aren't the only club desperate for an upgrade at the hot corner.
How wild would it be if the Phillies pilfered the Nationals' most important free agent in back-to-back seasons? Though Harper didn't return Philadelphia to the promised land, placing Rendon alongside him in the lineup would go a long way toward correcting that shortcoming. With Maikel Franco never really developing into the player he was expected to become, the Phillies could use an upgrade at third. Rendon is the best replacement imaginable.
Philly's more obvious need is rotation help - the list of reliable starters begins and ends with Aaron Nola. And although Scott Kingery has become something of a Swiss Army knife and will take his reps wherever he can get them, adding Rendon would throw his role into a state of flux.
On the surface, perhaps the Rangers don't fit the expected mold of a Rendon suitor. They've suffered through three consecutive losing seasons and aren't in a clear position to challenge for an AL West title in 2020. But they are moving into a new ballpark. Plunging headfirst into free agency and making a major splash for a Texas-born star would be a fantastic PR move.
Players returning to their roots is a common free-agency narrative, but it's often overblown. Rendon wouldn't take a hometown discount even if Scott Boras wasn't his agent, and the fact Boras is his agent seals it.
As rumors mount that the Dodgers are pushing to acquire Francisco Lindor from the Indians with a willingness to trade shortstop Corey Seager, why not just overhaul the entire left side of the infield by investing in Rendon long-term? Justin Turner can slide across the diamond and be the primary first baseman while Max Muncy and Gavin Lux fight over second base.
Anything is possible, sure. The Dodgers may be able to make serious strides toward patching up the bullpen by trading an up-and-comer like Lux to make room for Rendon. But it seems like a tricky fit. Still, for a team that lost back-to-back World Series and hasn't been able to turn seven straight division titles into a championship, drastic changes may be in order.
Speaking of teams in need of drastic changes, Zack Cozart currently projects to be the Opening Day third baseman in Anaheim. The Angels are among the top suitors for right-hander Gerrit Cole, so a twofer might be too much to ask, but this team desperately needs to salvage Mike Trout's heretofore wasted tenure.
Trout has not appeared in a postseason game since 2014, and the Angels have yet to win a playoff series since his MLB debut. That's partly due to Albert Pujols aging from 32 to 75 almost overnight and the pitching staff posting a collective 5.12 ERA since 2011 (25th in MLB), so Rendon won't put them over the top on his own. But owner Arte Moreno brought Joe Maddon in for a reason - to win. The Angels have never shied away from spending; why start now?
Like the Dodgers, the Yankees would have to perform some major roster gymnastics to make a Rendon signing work. But apparent roster crunches haven't stopped the Yankees before. Just look to last offseason, when New York plucked DJ LeMahieu despite his less-than-perfect fit on a team featuring Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, Troy Tulowitzki, Greg Bird, and Luke Voit. Injuries played a particular part in opening up playing time for him, but so did LeMahieu's versatility and high-quality play.
Signing Rendon means moving on from Andujar. Though his value is at its lowest after an injury-ravaged 2019 saw him limited to 12 games, several teams would be willing to take a flier on a 24-year-old who was a Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2018.
St. Louis is probably a long shot to add the All-Star third baseman, but there's a recognizable need. While Matt Carpenter put together the worst season of his career, Tommy Edman emerged as a viable big-league bat. Maybe Edman's success is sustainable. Maybe it isn't. Either way, Rendon would be a significant upgrade and allow Edman to be used in a super-utility role. With payroll dedicated to Carpenter and Dexter Fowler, however, the Cardinals may use those apparent restraints to justify stinginess on the open market.
Whichever team manages to land Rendon will be adding a middle-of-the-order bat - he's projected to post a 132 wRC+ and 5.5 WAR in 2020, according to Steamer - in the prime of his career. He's simultaneously steady and explosive, capable of major peaks with very few valleys. Rendon's ceiling is the Hall of Fame, and that type of talent won't come at a discount.