As soon as it reported that the Nationals were willing to listen to offers on star outfielder Juan Soto, there was speculation about the possibility of utilizing Soto’s unprecedented trade value to dump some or all of the $59MM owed to Patrick Corbin in 2023-24. (Stephen Strasburg’s name was also a popular source of speculation, but he has full no-trade protection, making that scenario even less likely.) In his weekly radio appearance on 106.7 FM’s “The Sports Junkies,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo plainly stated that he will not water down his return for any player, Soto or otherwise, by insisting that a trade partner take on an undesirable contract (link to full audio of the 21-minute interview).
“We’ve never contacted teams and talked about Juan Soto and attaching any contract to any player,” said Rizzo. “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. We want to get the most for each and every trade that we do, so we certainly are not going to tack on anybody’s contract to anybody’s deal, including Juan Soto’s or Josh Bell’s or anybody.”
Fans hoping to see their favorite team absorb the Corbin contract in order to reduce the prospect cost of acquiring Soto can’t be thrilled by that declaration, but it’s the sensible course of action for Rizzo and his staff to take if they indeed follow through on a Soto trade — be it this summer or in the offseason. Rizzo did candidly acknowledge that the Nationals are discussing trades involving Soto and appear to have legitimate interest from several other clubs. Whether a team will meet a historic asking price (reportedly as many as six prospects and/or young big leaguers), of course, remains to be seen. Unsurprisingly, Rizzo did not offer any specifics pertaining to ongoing Soto discussions.
“When we offered Juan this contract, with his agent’s knowledge, we told him when the deal was turned down, ’We’re going to have to explore all our options,'” Rizzo continued. “That’s all we’ve ever said. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t explore all the options now presented to us. We’ve got pretty good options. We’ve got a talented Juan Soto for two and a half more seasons. That’s Option A — it’s a good one. But we also have to think about options B and C. My job is to make this organization a consummate winner again, like we did from 2012 to 2019. I have to figure out ways, as the caretaker of this franchise, to make us a championship organization for a long time to come.”
Taking a step further back, Rizzo lamented that his team’s reported 15-year, $440MM extension offer to Soto became public. The GM stated that it “unequivocally” was not leaked by him or other members of the Nationals front office.
“[The leak] didn’t help us in anything we were trying to do,” said Rizzo. “It didn’t help us keep a good relationship with Juan, and it didn’t help us with any kind of leverage at the trade deadline. So it really hurt us that the information got out.”
Speaking further on the matter, Rizzo acknowledged that while reports of prior extension offers to Soto had contained inaccurate terms, the reported 15-year, $440MM terms of his team’s latest proposal were indeed accurate. He added that he doesn’t harbor any ill feelings toward Soto for the choice to turn down what would’ve been the largest contract in MLB history, but also pushed back on suggestions that Max Scherzer’s $43.33MM annual value should have any bearing on the AAV in a potential Soto deal. As Rizzo points out, a short-term deal for a 37-year-old pitcher is an entirely different beast than a 15-year offer to a 23-year-old who still has a pair of trips through the arbitration process remaining.
There was, of course, no firm declaration that Soto would be traded. Rizzo emphasized that the Nats are “going to have to get the deal that we want … that gets us the opportunity to become a championship organization faster than not trading him.” On the Lerner family’s looming sale of the Nationals franchise, Rizzo stated that the potential ownership change “has not factored one bit into the decision-making process.”
Fans of the Nats and virtually any other team will want to check out the whole interview, as Rizzo’s candor is both fascinating and uncommon among current baseball operations leaders throughout the league. Beyond the Soto drama, Rizzo also discusses the team’s recent draft, his respect for and relationship with the Boras Corporation, the broader state of the team’s ongoing “reboot,” and the confidence he has in his plan to engineer a swift turnaround for the organization.