The Washington Nationals and superstar outfielder Juan Soto made headlines on Saturday due to the Nationals’ desire to sign him to a long-term extension. Soto, 23, is in his fifth season, all with the Nationals. He’s a career .292 hitter with 117 home runs in 553 games. Soto won the World Series with Washington back in 2019 as a rookie, slashing .333/.438/.741 with an OPS of 1.178. He also slugged three homers and drove in seven runs during the seven-game series. Soto is a two-time NL All-Star and two-time NL Silver Slugger, along with a World Series champion.
Soto is going to get big money. He could get it very soon. The only guarantee is that it will not be coming from the Nationals. Ken Rosenthal reported that Soto had turned down an offer of $440M over 15 years. The AAV works out to be $29.3M per season. Is it an issue with the AAV? Is there an issue with the length? Does Soto simply want more? The situation is very fluid at the moment, but the Nationals have decided that he will not be in their future. They are going to make him very available in trade talks and possibly could deal him before the trade deadline on August 2nd.
Due to Soto’s age and current service time, pretty much every team in the league will be in on him. He’s 23 so he would fit the timeline of rebuilding teams. He’s one of the best players in the world and could push some fringe teams into contention. He can also get a team that thinks they’re a piece away over the hump.
This season, he’s had a bit of a rough go at the plate. He’s currently slashing .247/.405/.490 for an OPS of .895. The power numbers are still there, as he has 19 homers and 36 extra-base hits. He’s also driven in 42 runs. He leads the NL in walks with 79. He’s only struck out 54 times in 89 games.
There will be many teams vying for Soto’s talent. The obvious ones that come to mind are the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, and Padres. Other teams that will likely be in on him include the Phillies, Giants, Brewers, Cardinals, Marlins, Braves, Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Angels, and Rangers.
The hard part for these teams will be coming up with a prospect package good enough to meet what the Nationals are asking for. It isn’t yet known what it will take, but there is a belief that it will take a handful of a team’s top prospects. Maybe not the top five from every team, that will be up to the Nationals and who they decide to ask for, but there will definitely need to be some restocking on the farm wherever Soto is traded.
So, if the Phillies were to be one of the serious contenders for Juan Soto (they shouldn’t), a package will start with Mick Abel, Andrew Painter, and Bryson Stott. Abel and Painter are going to be very good pitchers for a long time. Stott, after a rough start and being optioned early, has looked way better lately and is going to be the guy at short for a long time. Those three won’t get it done, however. The Nats would be sacrificing the rest of this year, all of 2023, and all of 2024 of club control over Soto. Whoever gets him will have him for two and a half years. That’s also before giving him an extension.
The second part of a deal for the acquiring club is the extension. Based on the rejection of the 15-year/$440M offer, Soto likely believes or wants to be the first $500M player. Could he actually get that? Absolutely. Is he worth $500M? Probably not, no player is worth $500M, but if he lights it up the rest of this year and the next two years before being scheduled to hit free agency, he likely will get it. There is no guarantee that Soto would even sign a deal with a new club. Players work their whole lives to get to free agency. Soto will only have to sign one contract for the rest of his career, so he’ll want it to be as large as possible. Any team that trades for him will be tricking themselves into thinking that he’ll want to be with them for life. There’s no guarantee he even wants to leave Washington, he just wants to find out what he’s worth. If he was offered $440M from Washington in 2024 and every other team comes in at $440M as well, there’s a good chance he would decide to stay there. That’s the biggest risk in pulling the trigger on a deal like this. The team would have him for two and half years, and then potentially watch him walk for nothing in free agency. Another possibility to consider is what if does the same thing with his new team that he did today? If the new team offered him $500M and he declines, they very well might look to trade him instead of letting him walk.
There are so many moving parts to this and risk factors. A team would first be risking their top prospects, and how many, still not clear. They would then be risking watching Soto reject offers from them, with the firm intention to reach free agency.
For the Phillies, they would be better off waiting until the winter of 2024 to make a run at signing him. The Nationals will not trade him in the division, that’s essentially a guarantee. They won’t trade him to the Phillies after they poached Bryce Harper from them. The Phillies’ best approach is to wait until 2024 then open up the checkbook and let Soto offer himself however much he wants. At that time, one of the young pitchers could be ready to step in and contribute at the major league level. Keeping the prospects and landing Soto would be a massive win for the organization.
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