For years, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon were essentially each other’s shadows. When Rendon would head to the weight room at Nationals Park, he’d find Turner there or close behind. They’d eat together before making the stroll down to the home batting cage, where Turner was as fastidious about his tee work as he was about getting up shots with Rendon on a basketball hoop they’d tucked away in a corner.
Come game time, they’d often occupy a similar spot along the dugout rail, and they’d get to chatting. It was there that Rendon came up with a nickname for the Dodgers, so often their postseason foe.
Los Angeles was one of the few teams that could match up with, if not top, the individual star power of a Nationals franchise that included the likes of Rendon, Turner, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Juan Soto over the years. The Nationals finally toppled the titans in 2019. They won the wild-card game against the Brewers before shocking the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in a stunning NLDS Game 5. The ensuing World Series series win will forever be remembered in conjunction with the Nationals clawing their way back from a 19-31 low point in late May.
“I think we won because we kind of liked each other more than the other team,” Turner recalled recently. “If we had to run it back, it probably wouldn’t have happened again, because the odds were not in our favor. But that’s why it’s a story that a lot of people will always remember.”
It’s the lasting image of a particularly talented core, which has now dispersed. Harper left for Philadelphia before the Nationals finally broke through. Scherzer is now in New York after a brief pit stop in Los Angeles. Rendon is in Anaheim. Strasburg has made just seven starts since being named the World Series MVP. Soto is the subject of trade speculation for a franchise now floundering at the big-league level.
And Turner became one of the “Monstars” as part of a midseason trade that sent him and Scherzer to the Dodgers for a haul: Los Angeles’ top pitching and hitting prospects, Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz, as well as outfielder Donovan Casey and pitcher Gerardo Carrillo.
Gray and Ruiz are now part of what Washington is hoping can be a comparable core to the one that has since departed. Monday, Turner will return to Nationals Park for the first time since his surprise inclusion in the megadeal.
Scherzer got his reunion tour earlier this year when the division rival Mets arrived in D.C. The Nationals went to go visit Rendon in Anaheim earlier this month, his first time seeing his old club since his Game 7 heroics in the World Series. Now, Turner gets his coronation. His wife, Kristen, and son, Beckham, will be in attendance, as will his sister, Teal. His parents may be in attendance as well.
“He’ll get a little ovation, step out of the box and do his little wave,” Rendon said with a laugh. He’ll also get to explore the only parts of National Park he doesn’t know down to the square inch. Like, for instance, figuring out where the heck the visiting clubhouse is, and sorting out the rumor he and Rendon had heard for years that their weight room is as good as on the home side.
Failed extension talks spoiled the hope that Turner, a free agent after this year, would remain a National in the long term entering last spring. But though moving Scherzer, a free agent at the end of last season, felt like a recognition of the Nationals being out of the mix, Turner’s inclusion turned a blockbuster into an industry-shifter.
Turner was candid after the trade, saying then, “I’ve been told a lot of things over the last two years, and for me, actions speak louder than words.” Turner stood by those comments again recently in speaking to The Athletic but didn’t express any lingering bitterness toward the organization.
“I think everything I said before was true,” Turner said. “I thought I’d be there. But I think it is what it is. I’m not mad about it. I thought I’d be with the Padres for a long time (before they traded him in 2014), too. In the moment, based on the things, situation and what I was told and how I felt and whatnot, I thought it would last. But that’s not always the case.
“I’m really enjoying it here. I think the best things are always true and I try to be honest, and I was. I feel good here (in Los Angeles), and I’m glad everything worked out.”
What will follow instead is the chance to finally say goodbye to a franchise where he spent the first seven seasons of his big-league career. On Turner’s final day in a Nationals uniform, he was pulled midgame due to a positive COVID-19 test, along with Daniel Hudson. When Turner and Hudson were traded, they were on the COVID-19 injured list and isolating.
“I couldn’t go in and say bye to anybody, I’m masked up, couldn’t touch anybody,” said Hudson, who signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers this winter after Washington dealt him to San Diego last summer. “Couldn’t hug anybody, couldn’t say bye. … It’ll be fun to see everybody — everybody that’s still there, anyways.”
Manager Dave Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo remain, as both are reportedly in the final guaranteed year of their deals. The memories and relationships created and forged among that group also remain. The attitude of that club has prevailed.
When Turner returned from a fractured finger in 2019, he didn’t take a day off, even though the injury didn’t fully heal. When Rendon came back from an elbow contusion that April, he didn’t take a day off, either. And after Soto came back off the injured list after dealing with back spasms, he went the rest of the way.
“When you win,” Turner said, “it’s not just that year. You went through a lot to get there, before and afterwards. Because as we know, it’s hard to repeat. It’s hard to do it again. It’s hard enough to do one time. It’s hard to do it again. So I think it’s sharing those ups and downs, going from heartbreaking losses in the postseason to finally being on top.”
“That’s something that you can’t explain until you go through something with someone, someone as impactful or as dramatic as that was,” Rendon said.
“I have kids and now (Trea) has his first son now, too. It’s a crazy thing how time flies. And once you go through all the big milestones in your own personal life and you have someone to share it with, whether it’s, they’re saying congratulations on your kid. You remember who texts you. You remember who you go to dinner with when you’re at spring training. You remember who you had dinner with on Aug. 5, where no one wants to leave the hotel because we’re all dead tired from the season but, ‘Hey, we’re gonna go out and get dinner’ or whatever it might be. You remember those little things.”
Those connections took years to foster. It started when Turner arrived in Washington as the final part of a three-team trade in 2014 — Rendon still affectionately referred to Turner as “the player to be named later” — and their kinship grew as the underrated stars on a club filled with established veterans like Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Chad Tracy.
“There’s a reason why it’s so rare to get 10 years of service in Major League Baseball,” Rendon said. “They’re obviously doing something right. … That’s how we got to learn.”
Harper is now a two-time MVP who signed a $330 million deal with the Phillies in 2019. Strasburg signed a seven-year, $175 million extension before re-upping at seven years and $245 million. Rendon got the same seven-year, $245 million deal to try to be the next Angels star alongside Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. And even Scherzer, whose free-agent deal with the Nationals is one of the best ever, signed a record-setting deal this winter.
This winter will be Turner’s turn. He and the Dodgers had only cursory discussions this winter about an extension, and the organization informed him shortly before the season that they wouldn’t be extending him a formal offer before Opening Day. He’s felt more comfortable in Los Angeles during his first full season there, moving back to his natural shortstop position and fitting in among the collection of “Monstars” who’d already won a title together in 2020 and added another recent World Series winner in Freddie Freeman.
Although Turner hasn’t explicitly sought out advice for how to approach his looming free agency, he’s surrounded by prominent examples. The reigning batting champion asked Rendon how his experience seeking an extension went with the Nationals but wanted to have his own experience as well. Finding what he wants will depend on aligning his priorities with opportunity.
“Each individual is way different,” Turner said. “I think Bryce’s case is different from Rendon’s, who is different from mine, which is different from Juan’s, which is different from Strasburg, which was different. I think just everyone had a different situation. And there’s no right or wrong answer. I think as long as the player is happy, and does what he thinks is best for him and his family, I think, is most important.”
Rendon’s advice is simple: Take your time.
“And I’ll probably tell him more when I text him later,” Rendon quipped. The two remain close, the bonds of being two quiet superstars of a title winner forcing them together, growing up alongside each other and mirroring the other’s routines. It’s drawn them together, even now as they’re starring on opposite sides of the same media market.
“I mean, I’d love (him in Anaheim). That’s for sure.”
(Photo: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)
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