The Nationals have renewed Juan Soto’s contract and will pay the outfielder $629.4K in 2020, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports (Twitter link). The two sides were unable to agree on a salary for 2020, and thus the Nationals simply set their own figure for Soto’s contract in the coming season, as is the team’s right since Soto is a pre-arbitration player.
Each club has its own methodology for determining how much beyond the $563.5K minimum salary pre-arb players can earn, usually based on some type of formula that assigns extra money for service time and/or significant achievements. Pre-arbitration players can’t really negotiate since the club controls their rights, so the large majority of pre-arb players simply agree to whatever figure is offered. Some pre-arb players coming off particularly outstanding seasons, however, feel they should be better rewarded for this performance, and sometimes opt to turn down the team’s offered raise rather than accept what they feel is simply inadequate compensation.
Needless to say, Soto has delivered far above and beyond the slightly more than $1.1MM in salary he has earned over his first two MLB seasons. As Soto enters his age-21 season, the phenom has already hit .287/.403/.535 with 56 homers over 1153 plate appearances, and played a primary role in the Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship. As per Fangraphs’ evaluations, Soto has already delivered $67.9MM worth of production with his 8.5 career fWAR.
The Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty was another young star who took a renewal this spring rather than accepting his club’s terms, and several other notable players (including Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Carlos Correa, Blake Snell, Josh Hader, and even Soto’s Nats teammate Ryan Zimmerman) have also their pre-arb deals renewed over the years. Flaherty described his decision to turn down the Cards’ offer as a matter of “principle,” and a protest against baseball’s salary structure rather than against his particular team.
As we saw with Trout, Snell, and Zimmerman, contract renewals didn’t lead to hard feelings that prevented those players from signing lucrative multi-year extensions with their teams. There seemingly hasn’t been much news about a potential extension between Soto and the Nationals, though since Soto is controlled through the 2024 season, there isn’t any huge urgency on Washington’s part.
That said, Soto will become arbitration-eligible next winter and is sure to qualify as a Super Two player, so he’ll take four trips through the arb process instead of the usual three. That will only make Soto’s price tag rise even higher if he continues to perform at his elite level, and thus the Nats would certainly have interest in gaining some cost certainty over the young superstar. Scott Boras, Soto’s agent, is usually more likely to advise his clients to test free agency rather than accept an extension, and Soto would potentially be in line for a record-setting contract since he is scheduled to be a free agent in advance of his age-26 season. Boras does have a long history of doing business with the Nationals, however, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a deal was indeed worked out to keep Soto in the District.