The Nationals will need to replace the bat of third baseman Anthony Rendon in 2020. Rendon was able to come through in the clutch for the Nats time and time again, especially in the postseason, and potential third base replacement Carter Kieboom is not expected to have to shoulder the responsibility for that run production all by himself.
So who can help in the Nats lineup? Looking around the clubhouse, could Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Eric Thames, Starlin Castro and others pick up the slack? Of course, but maybe a replacement-by-committee solution is the Nats’ best option.
Here is a rundown of some of the possibilities:
* Thames’ numbers for the Brewers were very impressive and while Adams had his moments, he was not nearly as consistent as he had hoped as 2019 drew to a close. Opposing pitchers know that Thames has the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark and his presence alone should help Soto, and more importantly, the Nats offense overall.
Thames, 33, hit 72 homers over the last three seasons, an average of 24 per year. Adams hit 20 homers last season, but only two after Aug. 13. Thames’ left-handed power bat will be huge in the Nats lineup, and can take some of the pressure off of everyone else to make up for the loss of the 34 homers hit by Rendon. Thames was so good in the Korean Baseball Organization from 2014-2016 that the team’s fans had a cheer song for him. He hit 114 homers in three seasons for the NC Dinos.
Thames will platoon at first base, but also has 236 games in the outfield during his career. This could allow for the possibility of manager Davey Martinez having both Ryan Zimmerman and Thames in the lineup at the same time if necessary.
* Castro’s OBP should be better than Brian Dozier’s last season. Castro, 30, did a nice job of elevating the ball for the Marlins in 2019, adjusting his swing to reach the outer reaches of the ballpark, which should also help him find the gaps at Nationals Park this season. Castro can play second base, shortstop and has 45 career games at third base.
Dozier, 32, managed 20 homers and 50 RBIs for the Nats, hitting .238. Castro smacked 22 homers with 86 RBIs in 162 games for the Marlins, and hit .270.
* Asdrúbal Cabrera, 34, can also take up some of those lost games at third base. He turned his season around once he got to D.C. from Texas, hitting .323 with the Nationals after posting just a .235 average with the Rangers. His OPS jumped from .711 to a whopping .969 with the Nats. His importance to the Nats was demonstrated in his 23 plate appearances in seven World Series games, hitting .286 with three RBIs and some key defense at second base.
* Kieboom, 22, displayed an ability to swing the bat very well for Triple-A Fresno. After an 11-game sometimes rocky introduction to the big leagues, Kieboom went back to Triple-A and did not pout, got to work and showed well in the Pacific Coast League. He doesn’t have to be Rendon’s replacement or a miracle worker, but just needs to play solid defense and come up with a big hit every once and awhile. Kieboom seems to have the offense side of his game down, but just needs to work on being more consistent with his glove, his throws and decision making on defense from third base.
His numbers last season in Fresno state his case offensively: .303/.409/.493 with 24 doubles, three triples, 16 homers and 79 RBIs.
* Soto could very well break through in 2020 to MVP levels after coming up with huge hits in the postseason and being the most difficult out in the Nats lineup. Without Rendon, he will need some protection, and that is where Thames or Ryan Zimmerman will come in.
The numbers speak for themselves. Each season, Soto has contributed more. Following 22 homers in 2018, Soto tied Rendon for the team lead with 34 round-trippers in 2019. He also had 110 RBIs, second on the squad. Those numbers continued into an amazing postseason run: five homers and 14 RBIs over 17 games in October. There is no reason to believe the 21-year-old is going to stop now.
* Robles, 22, also has the talent to take another step forward offensively. He may not be considered a home run hitter, but like Castro, Robles should be able to get on base a lot and provide those extra runs and pressure on the opposing pitcher when needed.
The 2019 campaign was really Robles’ first full-time season in the majors, playing 155 games (not to mention playoffs), smacking 33 doubles, three triples, 17 homers and 65 RBIs. He would like to push the strikeout total down (140) and the OBP (.326) up, but there is a lot to look forward to in Robles’ game. He also stole 28 bases. Would manager Davey Martinez consider moving him up in the order? The skipper loves Robles as a second leadoff hitter when the lineup is turned over.
If Soto is ready to take to MVP responsibilities, his outfield made could also ready for a breakthrough season.
Robles’ doubles were third on the team and his stolen base total was second. He is key to helping replace some of Rendon’s offense with those numbers continuing to rise. Add to that his amazing defense a major league-best 23 Outs Above Average, and a 4.1 WAR, and one can see why Robles is a big key to 2020 for the Nats.
* Turner, 26, can connect well on swings and get on base. His numbers should go up if he can stay healthy and play around 150 games, something he was unable to do last season with an injured finger. He had offseason surgery to repair the finger, which became a nagging issue even when healthy at the end of 2019. That alone should help Turner have a much more consistent season.
Even though he was held to just 122 regular season games, Turner led the team in stolen bases (35) and enjoyed an OPS of .850, third among Nats regulars. If healthy, Turner can also pick up some of the slack left with Rendon in Anaheim.
Not one player would ever be able to replace someone like Rendon. But the Nats still have a ton of talent, and with new additions and adjustments in the lineup, they could very well find a different way to score those runs once provided by the man from Houston.
Soto and Robles have each benefited from a season in which they reached the pinnacle for their sport, an extra 17 games to help them get better against the fiercest of competition. That will go a long way to making them leaders of this team for 2020 and beyond. And they are not the only solution to the problem. The Nats as a whole can all step up to fill the gap created by Rendon’s departure.