If the Cubs, Rockies, or Mariners were ever going to trade their star third basemen, there may not be a better time than the next couple of weeks. Supply and demand, etc.
It figured that third base would be a position of interest, since the two most coveted free-agent position players played there. Rendon signed with the Angels for $245 million over seven years. Here’s how that deal stacks up historically:
• Tied for 10th-largest total dollars ever.
• Tied for third-largest average annual salary ($35 million).
Because Donaldson, 34, is five years older than Rendon, he figures to get a shorter contract. Because at least three teams -- Nationals, Braves and Dodgers -- are pursuing him, he should end up with a massive average annual salary.
And then what?
There’ll still be teams trying to acquire a third baseman, and if you’ve got a really good one, you’re going to be tempted to at least consider trading him.
Here’s where things stand on the third base market:
From the moment Rendon signed with the Angels, the Nationals became the favorite to land Donaldson. If they could slide him into the lineup at third, it would allow the post-World Series momentum to continue uninterrupted.
Backup plan: Bryant, Arenado and Seager would be excellent Plan B options if the Nationals are unable to sign Donaldson. Problem is, they do not have as much Minor League depth as some other teams; that’s why they’re the favorites to sign Donaldson.
All things being equal, Donaldson’s first choice might be to return to Atlanta, where he reestablished his career while helping the Braves win a second straight National League East championship in 2019. As with Rendon, though, the market could go places Atlanta is unwilling to go.
Backup plan: As much as the Braves need that dominant bat in their lineup, they seem prepared to enter the season with 22-year-old Austin Riley, who hit 18 homers in 297 plate appearances in his rookie season while getting most of his playing time in the outfield. They have the pitching depth to trade for a third baseman, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos may prefer to hold onto it and reevaluate things as the season plays out.
Donaldson is on their radar, just as Rendon and Gerrit Cole were, as president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman considers shaking up his roster a bit. But it’s unclear if his interest is going to match that of the Nationals and Braves.
Backup plan: It’s unlikely the Rockies would trade Arenado to a division rival, and Friedman has been reluctant to part with the number of prospects it would take to get Bryant from the Cubs. As for Seager, that would be interesting because it would put brothers Kyle and Corey on the left side of the infield. However, Friedman may not view Kyle as a significant upgrade over his internal options.
Rendon was the Rangers' No. 1 target, and when they were unable to land him, immediately turned to Corey Kluber, who they acquired on Sunday. Third base remains a priority, but the market appears to have already gone to a place the Rangers won’t.
Backup plan: The Rangers are interested in both Bryant and Arenado. Whether they have the prospects that would entice the Rockies and Cubs to make the deal is another matter. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is going to find out.
This probably was the mystery team in the Rendon sweepstakes. Several executives believed the Brewers cleared so much payroll, in part, to make a run at either Rendon or Donaldson. General manager David Stearns typically works the market below the high-profile free agents, and that seems to be the case again.
Backup plan: The Cubs aren’t going to trade Bryant to the Brewers. That’s a non-starter. As for Arenado, he has seven years and $234 million remaining on his contract, which probably is out of Stearns’ comfort zone. Seager’s contract is lower ($37 million over the next two seasons with a $15 million team option for 2022). But that option becomes a player option if Seager is traded. So, while Seattle is on the hook for two years and $37 million, any team that trades for Seager is acquiring a guaranteed three-year, $52 million contract. The Brewers may attempt to upgrade at other positions before pursuing this option.