- The Washington Times
Sunday, July 17, 2022

OPINION:

Bradley Beal looked into the camera and pleaded his case. The Washington Wizards guard wants Juan Soto to give his son baseball lessons, so naturally, Beal would like to see the Washington Nationals star stick around for quite a bit longer. 

“What you need Juanny?” Beal told ABC 7 earlier this month. “What we need? … We got to keep you. Tell the Lerner family do whatever we need to do. Beal is here to help.” 


After this weekend’s news that the Nationals will explore trading Soto after failed contract talks, Beal’s help doesn’t look like it will be enough. 

Good things, it turns out, apparently don’t come in threes. Despite Beal staying with the Wizards on a massive five-year, $250 million deal and the Commanders locking up top wide receiver Terry McLaurin, it increasingly appears that Soto won’t become the latest homegrown star to stay in the District. And that’s baffling when factoring in that Soto is arguably the most popular athlete in town, or at least close to Alex Ovechkin.

The Wizards and the Commanders ultimately ponied up. So why won’t the Nationals? 

It’s not for lack of trying — the Nationals have made multiple offers to Soto’s camp. The latest included a reported overall total that would make Soto the highest-paid player in MLB history at $440 million. The offer was a noticeable bump from the $350 million that Washington made before last year’s MLB lockout. 

But dig deeper into those numbers, and it starts to make sense why Soto and his agent Scott Boras — who has a history of steering his clients to free agency — turned them down. While the latest proposal reportedly didn’t contain deferrals like so many other past big contracts from the Nationals, the $440 million was stretched across 15 years for an average salary of $29.3 million per year. The annual value wouldn’t even put the 23-year-old in the top 10 — let alone five — among current players.

The Nationals’ proposed $29.3 million annual salary would be just the 15th-highest among current MLB deals and rank as the 20th-highest all-time. Players will sometimes sacrifice a higher average for additional years or vice versa, but should he hit the open market, Soto will likely be the rare type who can probably command both without having to budge. 

The Angels’ Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million extension from 2019 remains the gold standard for young stars looking to cash in as the outfielder is the highest-paid position player in MLB. Soto, whose start to his career has often drawn parallels to Ted Williams, is a Trout-caliber talent. 

The Nationals have gone down this path before. Washington let Bryce Harper walk after the 2018 season. Anthony Rendon left in free agency a year later. Trea Turner was traded last season. When the Nationals have handed out major contracts, they’re almost always to pitchers — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg — rather than hitters. The philosophy even helped them win the World Series in 2019. 

But Soto was also part of that World Series team. His rise helped offset Harper’s departure. Along the way, Soto became the new face of the Nationals — and he remains one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable season for Washington this year. Kids show up to Nationals Park wearing his jersey. 

Complicating matters in these discussions is that the Lerner family is exploring a sale of the Nationals. Are they not willing to give Soto a market-setting contract because they’re worried the deal would be a potential turn-off to any buyer who would actually be on the hook for paying it? Then again, what better way to lure a billionaire or an investment group knowing that your marquee player — one of the faces of baseball — is under contract for years to come? 

In any case, the Nationals and Soto haven’t been able to reach an agreement. Though he’s under team control for another two years, Washington’s brass has reached a breaking point in which it is now willing to field trade offers for the Dominican star. Soto, too, said he was frustrated that the offer became public.

If the Nationals do trade Soto ahead of MLB’s Aug. 2 trade deadline, ESPN’s Jeff Passan predicted the Nationals could fetch the biggest haul ever for the two-time All-Star. After all, it’s not often that a yet-to-hit-his-prime MVP candidate becomes available.

“I need my son to get some baseball lessons,” Beal said, referencing Soto. “I told you, he’s a lefty. I’m trying to get him, his swing right. Trying to get some lessons.” 

Beal better hurry while he still can. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.


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