- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Two months ago, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo went on 106.7 The Fan to emphatically deny rumors that Juan Soto could be traded at the deadline.

His appearance on the radio station Wednesday had a slightly different tone. 

About 10 days after news leaked that Soto declined a would-be record-breaking contract from the Nationals, Rizzo said in an interview with “The Sports Junkies” that the 23-year-old superstar is on the trading block. He also confirmed the original report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that Soto was offered a 15-year, $440 million contract. And when the right fielder and his agent Scott Boras turned it down, Rizzo told them that the team would explore a trade.

“When we offered Juan this contract with his agent’s knowledge, we told him when the deal was turned down, ‘We’re gonna have to explore all our options,’” Rizzo said. “And that’s all we’ve ever said. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t explore all the options that now present us. We’ve got a pretty good option: We’ve got a talented Juan Soto for two-and-a-half more seasons. That’s option A, that’s a good one. But we also have to think about options B and C.”

Options B and C could be the Los Angeles Dodgers or the New York Yankees. Or the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres. Or the New York Mets and the Seattle Mariners. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, all of those teams have been in contact with the Nationals about trading for Soto

Rizzo also told Junkies that Washington made three contract extension offers to the player who many consider a modern-day version of Ted Williams, with the final one being the deal that would have been the most lucrative in MLB history. However, the average annual value of the contract — $29.3 million — would rank 20th in the sport. 

Boras has a reputation for taking his players to free agency to chase the top dollar, and Soto doesn’t seem to be in any rush to get a deal done. Boras told the New York Post last week that the offer from the Nationals wasn’t in the “range of consideration” because of Soto’s standing as one of the sport’s best-ever players through age 23. 

“He’s really separated himself to be in a very small group among major league history of performance levels,” Boras said. “So they’re gonna be at the highest order of average annual values and yet the proposal placed him…well below the top group, in the 15 or 20 range. And obviously, that made the contract something that was really not even the range of consideration because players obviously expect to be treated historically.”

Rizzo also pushed back against the insinuation from both Soto and Boras that the team leaked the details of the contract offer to Rosenthal. 

“Leaks are so difficult. In this age of social media, who knows where some of these things come from. All I can tell you is unequivocally did not come from me for sure, 100% for sure, or from our front office. That much I know for sure,” Rizzo said. “We had this information three weeks before it leaked out. We had ample time to leak it out if we wanted to leak it out. Leaks never ever help the situation. It was disappointing to me.”

The longtime Nationals executive also dispelled the notion that the team was looking to offload expensive contracts into the deal to save money. Some reports have suggested that starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, who is scheduled to make $59 million over the final two years of his contract, could be thrown into the trade. Corbin has been one of the worst starters in the majors since 2020, leading the National League in losses last season and again this year. 

“We’re not going to dilute a return for any player by adding a bad contract. That’s not where we’re at in our organization at this time,” Rizzo said. “We want to get the most for each and every trade that we do.”

A Soto trade would be historic, as players of his caliber, especially at his young age, are rarely dealt. But if one of the top teams in baseball wants to have Soto for the next three pennant races, it’s going to cost them a pretty penny. Multiple reports show the Nationals are asking for at least a handful of top youngsters, including a mix of high-end prospects and major leaguers with low service time. 

“My job is to make this organization a consummate winner again,” Rizzo said. “We did, from 2012 to 2019, be a consistent winner, and I have to figure out ways, as the caretaker of this franchise, to make us a championship organization for a long time to come.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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