On their way to back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 2010-2011, the Nationals have for the first time in a long time turned their attention to the future. If they are able to successfully pull of a “retool” — thereby avoiding the dreaded “rebuild” — it will likely be fueled by the rapid development of a stable of young players that includes Victor Robles, Luis Garcia, Carter Kieboom, Keibert Ruiz, Cade Cavalli and Josiah Gray.
In trading away veterans at the deadline, the Nationals targeted more advanced prospects like Ruiz and Gray for the express purpose of keying a quick turnaround. That’s because Juan Soto remains on the roster, and if they plan on signing the all-world outfielder to a contract extension, the Nats will want to avoid a drawn-out rebuild. Soto is under team control for three seasons beyond this one, and as a Scott Boras client, he’s unlikely to sign long-term.
Soto said as much recently, per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post. When asked about the possibility of extending, Soto said, “I’m going to try to take it year by year. I’m just going to keep playing baseball, not think about contracts or whatever … right now, I was a little frustrated, but I have to concentrate on the field, on how to be better for myself and my teammates. If they want to talk to my agent, they can talk to him. But let me play.”
The Nationals are better equipped than many clubs to handle the uncertainty of Soto’s long-term future because of their relationship with Boras. They’ve gone down this road before with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg. And while one view might notice that two of those three players left for other organizations, it’s also important to note that the team did bring Strasburg back on a monster $245MM deal. Besides, with Scherzer’s contract off the books and a Trea Turner extension no longer something they need to worry about, the Nats have long-term money to spend.
They’ll still need to convince Soto that Washington is where he wants to be. To that end, they should have a leg up on the competition. He has, after all, already won a World Series in DC, and with the Nats’ history of spending and pushing for competitive ball clubs, one would think Soto could envision an enviable long-term future.
On the Nats’ side, there’s the lingering question of how aggressively the Nats will work to make Soto a lifelong National. The Nats tend to put their money behind pitching — hence the long-term deals for Strasburg, Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin, while Harper, Rendon, and Turner have all been shown the door.
Soto, however, might be a generational player even beyond that star-studded threesome. On the one hand, there are few players in the game as talented as Harper, Rendon, and Turner. But on the other hand, Soto might just be one of those guys, and his youth makes him all the more likely to garner a “lifetime” contract like those mega deals signed by Manny Machado, Mookie Betts, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Harper himself.
What might be worrying for Nats’ fans is that Harper’s a pretty darn good career comp for Soto, and while they made an earnest effort to re-sign Harper, they were ultimately okay with letting him walk.
At the very least, Nats apologists can point to Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman as two players they were intent on keeping – and did. From a personality standpoint, Soto’s understated confidence and humility might fall more in line with Strasburg and Zim than the more vivacious Harper.
If Washington feels about Soto the way they have about Stras and Zim, he should be a National for life. Regardless, it doesn’t look like we’ll know for sure until the winter following the 2024 season.