After losing Bryce Harper, Nats move on from Anthony Rendon

HOWARD FENDRICH
Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper is met in the dugout after being pulled for a pinch runner during a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees Monday, March 9, 2020, in Clearwater, Fla. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A year after moving on from Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals must move on from Anthony Rendon.

No one accumulated more homers or RBIs for the Nationals in 2019 than Rendon. Just like no one accumulated more homers or RBIs for the Nationals in 2018 than Harper.

Might not seem simple to overcome the departure of a middle-of-the-order All-Star who hit 34 homers and drove in a majors-best 126 runs while playing well at third base. That is what Rendon did last season along the way to winning a World Series title, before signing for $245 million over seven years with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent.

"It's big. Time will tell, I think, because he did a lot of things for our team, for our lineup, that maybe you can't quantify," Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle said. "Just kind of the player that he was, the teammate that he was, what his presence did. .. We're going to need new guys to step up."

Still, the end result of a championship in the immediate aftermath of right fielder Harper's move to the Philadelphia Phillies for $330 million might very well have taught the Nationals something -- about themselves and the way baseball works.

"I truly believe that we can learn from that and we can learn what we can all do as individuals and as a unit if we kind of pull together. Losing Bryce was not an easy task. But we were able to do that -- fill that void," Washington hitting coach Kevin Long said. "And we're going to have to do it this year. We'll figure it out."

There's plenty to try to figure out between now and opening day; Washington is scheduled to play at the New York Mets on March 26.

To begin with, there is the not-so-small matter of who is going to play third base. That will depend on what the Nationals decide they have in 22-year-old Carter Kieboom, a middle infielder trying to switch to a new position.

Early in camp, Kieboom acknowledged that he can't strive to "be Anthony Rendon," and just needs to work on getting better. His three Grapefruit League errors -- all throwing -- are the most on the team through Wednesday.

If Kieboom is not the everyday solution at third, it could be Asdrúbal Cabrera.

The other place Rendon leaves a big hole is in the batting order, where he usually hit third, and Martinez has devoted a lot of time to studying the best way to use what he has.

There was some discussion weeks ago about sliding shortstop Trea Turner from the top of the lineup to No. 3. Or maybe trying slugging left fielder Juan Soto there, instead of hitting him in the cleanup spot. Maybe new second baseman Starlin Castro ends up third, ahead of Soto.

"(Rendon) was a really good piece, but like I said with Harper, it's not just one player. It's about a team. The best team is the one who wins," Soto said. "I feel really bad because he's gone, but we've got to keep going. We've got to keep the head up and keep playing baseball."

Just as in other professional sports, baseball clubs need to deal with change from season to season.

The Nationals actually ended up with relatively minimal turnover from 2019 to 2020 in terms of players who held significant roles last year.

Even if it seems daunting to no longer be able to rely on Rendon, it once probably seemed that way with regard to Harper.

"We lost Bryce. We lost Tony. Before that, (Jayson Werth). Quite a few people since I've been here that are kind of cornerstone guys, we've moved on without," Turner said. “Which isn't always fun, but something that you have to do.”

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