Replacing an NL-MVP finalist is never an enviable task. Especially one that displayed offensive and defensive heroics en route to leading the Nationals to their first World Series championship. Anthony Rendon has since become an Angel, and in doing so left an immense hole not only in the middle of the order, but defensively as well.
Luckily for the Nationals they have versatility at nearly every infield position. As GM Mike Rizzo has said before: “Of course, you’re not going to replicate or replace Anthony Rendon and his numbers on the field.” Instead, the Nationals hope to use their deep roster creatively to help ease the transition to a post-Rendon period at third base.
For those Nats fans looking toward the future, Carter Kieboom is usually the first name mentioned. Kieboom, much like Asdrudal Cabrera, Howie Kendrick, and Starlin Castro has ability to play third base. Kieboom represents not only the in-house fix at third base but the long-term option as well. While he struggled in his brief cup of coffee last year (11 GP, 5 H, .128 Avg), he showed improvement in spring ball before the COVID-19 related cancellation. Playing primarily at third, Kieboom hit a respectable .250 while also cutting down on previous defensive miscues. At only 22 years old Carter still has more than enough time to develop his fielding ability which he will need to in order to crack into the lineup for a full 9 innings.
While the young prospect still finds his footing in a major league lineup the Nats can deploy a platoon of veterans to hold down third base. The aforementioned group of Cabrera, Kendrick, and Castro all have shown the ability in their careers to field positions all over the infield while also limiting defensive gaffes. Staying defensively sound will be the biggest ask from this group. Plate production will be lower on the list of priorities for whoever is at third base at any given time.
Other infield positions will likely be stretched thin if Kieboom doesn’t hit the ground running. Castro will likely pair up with Trea Turner beside him as the every day second baseman. Castro, while still an option at third base, will likely be too valuable to move from second base. Cabrera and Kendrick are the two utility infielders who are most interchangeable. Both have seen time at nearly every infield position throughout their careers.
In terms of defense, Cabrera presents the safest option in the short term. Having the most third base experience on the team (90 starts in 2019) Cabrera should secure the starting job for this season. That being said, this contingency plan takes into account that a reshuffling of the infield lineup will occur often.
Third base will be the most interchangeable and fascinating position for the Nationals this year. Thankfully, this squad’s depth allows the Nationals to not only groom a third baseman for the future but to also manage the position competently for at least the 2020 season.