Today, ESPN sportswriter Buster Olney published an article posing a simple question: Will the Nationals trade Juan Soto? If you ask any Nationals fan, they probably say no because it would be hard to believe the organization would trade the new face of the franchise so soon after the retirement of Ryan Zimmerman. Who would be left to fill that role, Stephen Strasburg, the superstar pitcher whose face hasn’t been seen since the 2019 World Series?
Related Quick Notes: Quick Notes: No Stephen Strasburg Shutdown Part II per Mike Rizzo
Fans caught a glimpse of what it will take to keep Soto back in March when GM Mike Rizzo put together a 13-year $350 million offer. At that time, Soto himself remained neutral and said in an ESPN article, “Yes, they made me an offer a few months ago, before the lockout. But right now, my agent and I think the best option is to go year by year and wait for free agency. My agent, Scott Boras, has control over the situation.”
The article quoted Soto saying, “Anyway, I still think of Washington as the place where I would like to spend the rest of my career, so we will see.” The Nationals want to keep Juan Soto around for a long time. However, there is also talk of putting the team on the market and General Manager Mike Rizzo in the last year of his contract. These things play a critical role in whether Soto gets or gets traded. Buster Olney mentions, “If the Lerner family is serious about selling the team, incoming ownership would likely prefer that any Soto trade occurs before the transfer of power takes place.”
Is Trading Soto worth the risk?
Trading Soto is risky, but it pays out big. The risk is that the Nationals are giving away a future Hall of Fame inductee and somebody who has experience winning the World Series in the near term. The Nationals would also be giving away the franchise’s new face, who appears in every commercial and promotion put on the screen or streamed over the web. If the Nationals leadership decides to trade Soto, many baseball teams would want him but would have to part with major franchise stars and prospects to land him. Additionally, Soto is expected to make $17.1 million in his first year of arbitration, putting him on a historical track to earn a record salary through arbitration in 2023. Free agency for Soto would begin in 2024.
What could be a way for the team to lock up Soto for the long term with all that being said? Forget about locking Soto up for $30M per year in a 13-year contract. If the market value Soto is expected to command when he reaches free agency is $40M per year, offer him that now for, say, a five-year contract. That appears to be a win-win-win to me. If the Nats can’t rebuild into a contender in 5 years with him, then holding on to him another seven years doesn’t ensure success either. From Soto’s perspective, after five years and $200M in earnings, he would still be only 28 years old and in his prime, ready to wheel and deal and make some real money. From the owner’s perspective, having Soto locked for five years should represent more value to the sale of the company.
Exit question: would the current owners think paying $10M more for five years is a good exchange for not committing $30M per year for seven fewer years?
One thing is for sure; major change is coming to Nationals Park, so buckle up.