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Sunday, July 17, 2022

OPINION:

Is Juan Soto signable? Does he need to be traded now?

The Athletic reported Saturday that Soto turned down a 15-year, $440 million from the Washington Nationals, which would have been the most money ever paid to a player in Major League Baseball history, passing Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million deal he signed in 2019.


There are all kinds of math that can be used to question the deal — a $29 million per year number over the course of the deal, which is significantly less than Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million in the first year of his three seasons with the New York Mets, among others.

I am sure that if Soto wanted to sign a contract like Scherzer’s, the Nationals would be more than willing to oblige — for three years on top of the two more years he is under their control. More money for a shorter term, what owner wouldn’t buy into that? Actually paying players per production, more or less? What a novel concept.

But Soto, 23, who is earning $17 million this year as an arbitration-eligible player, reportedly wants it all — the long-term security and the biggest annual paycheck. Who wouldn’t?

That likely won’t happen without a bidding war in free agency. Soto is eligible after the 2025 season. His agent, Scott Boras, brings his clients to free agency because that’s where the most money is — playing the team owners against each other.

The Boras-engineered decision to have Stephen Strasburg stick with the Nationals under a new deal was an outlier. For pitchers, the goal is long-term paycheck security. We are seeing the benefits of that goal now — for Strasburg, who signed a seven-year $245 million contract extension after his 2019 World Series Most Valuable Player performance but has only pitched in eight games since.

Strasburg makes $35 million a year, if you are keeping score — but for less than half the length of the reported Soto offer. Longer term, less annual salary. It’s negotiation math.

It’s not Boras math.

What really complicates all of this is the status of the Nationals franchise, currently up for sale by the Lerner family.

Is the team more valuable with Juan Soto under contract?

Would the new owner want their own chance at the plate to sign Soto? Or would they rather not inherit the headache of being the bad guy early in their ownership by not resigning Soto?

Would they prefer buying a team with payroll flexibility and a bunch of young, cheap players that a Soto trade would bring to the Nationals?

What about the uncertainty of new ownership for Soto, not knowing what kind of owner he would be playing for until the year 2037? That’s right — 2037.

One thing, though, is certain — Soto needs to stop treating his contract as if it is some other being that he has no control over. It’s insulting and disingenuous. This decision is not in the hands of anyone but Soto.

What would a new owner mean for Boras? Fresh meat.

What about Mike Rizzo? He has been among the best general managers in the game, and from 2012 to 2019 led the most successful franchise in baseball. But he’s going on his third straight losing season now and the “reboot” has got to start to pay off sooner rather than later.

The Lerners picked up the option on Rizzo’s contract to extend him through the 2023 season. Does he want to limp through next season with payroll uncertainty and the status of Soto still hanging over his head? Or does he want Soto’s massive contract holding back a rebuild under a new owner who may have just spent perhaps $2.5 billion to buy the team?

There is less than two weeks left before the trading deadline. It might seem remarkable that Soto would be dealt in that time. Perhaps the offseason might appear to make more sense.

But the attraction of Soto is the time he is still under control, and every moment of those two seasons, plus the two remaining months and perhaps the 2022 postseason is the value for any team. The teams that would be interested in Soto now are the same teams that likely have had their eye on him — and may be prepared to move quickly.

The prospect of signing Soto to a long-term contract is not likely the deal-breaker for a trade partner.

It’s possible that, for the Nationals, Soto is unsignable. And if that’s the case, the Nationals need to trade him now.

• You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


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