Nationals

Tatís landed a $340 million deal. Soto might get even more.

Nationals

The San Diego Padres know what they have in Fernando Tatís Jr. Now, they’re paying him like it.

After reportedly signing the star shortstop to a 14-year, $340 million extension Wednesday night, the Padres ensured themselves Tatís’s presence in the middle of their lineup through his age-35 season. He may have just 143 regular season games to his name so far in his MLB career, but the 22-year-old has already established himself as one of the sport’s best up-and-coming players.

Tatís’s emergence comes at a time when young stars — particularly those of Latin American heritage — have started to take over. Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (22 years old) led the major leagues in OPS last season at a rate not seen since Barry Bonds. Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. (23) has already won a pair of Silver Sluggers. Rafael Devers (24), Gleyber Torres (24), Eloy Jiménez (24) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (21) have all shown the potential to be franchise cornerstones.

With Acuña already locked into a team-friendly extension with the Braves, the spotlight now turns squarely on Soto as the next under-25 candidate for a mega-extension. Tatís broke the record for the longest contract in MLB history with his 14-year pact. If the Nationals want to lock up Soto, they might need to be willing to break one or two records as well.

As crazy as it might seem, Tatís probably could’ve pushed for an even bigger extension if he wanted to maximize his value down to the penny. He’s the seventh MLB player ever to sign a deal worth at least $300 million; all six of the others received a higher average annual value (AAV) on their contracts than Tatís’s $24.3 million. Soto, represented by renowned agent Scott Boras, shouldn't be expected to settle for such a low annual figure.

 

The record for the highest AAV on a deal north of $300 million is held by starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, whose nine-year, $340 million pact with the New York Yankees guarantees him an average of $36 million per year. Mike Trout leads the way for position players with an AAV of $35.5 million thanks to his 12-year, $426.5 million extension with the Los Angeles Angels. He’s trailed by Mookie Betts ($30.4M), Manny Machado ($30M), Bryce Harper ($25.4M) and Giancarlo Stanton ($25M).

Soto’s long-term value likely lies somewhere between that of Trout and Betts. The number $400 million doesn’t get tossed around too often, but it will certainly be in the conversation for Soto. A 12-year, $400 million deal would give him an AAV of $33.3 million, a little higher than the midpoint between Trout and Betts. For a player who’s already receiving Ted Williams comps, that may just be enough to convince Soto to follow Stephen Strasburg’s footsteps as a Boras client who opted against testing free agency.

Download and subscribe to the Nationals Talk podcast

However, given Soto’s age, he may push for opt-outs in exchange for a couple years of team control. The Nationals would be buying out his arbitration years — guaranteeing him market-level compensation in the short term — while securing themselves a larger chunk of Soto’s prime. Soto is already set to earn at least $50 million in arbitration the next few years as a Super 2 player anyway, so such a deal wouldn’t represent as massive a jump in immediate salary as it was for even Tatís.

Soto would likely have to agree to have a chunk of the payments deferred, something the Nationals pushed for in their contracts with Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin. That could prove to be a sticking point like it was for Harper and Anthony Rendon, but it comes down to the preference of the individual player.

The Nationals have already won a World Series with Soto, cementing his legacy in D.C. no matter what happens in his future. He’s the favorite to win NL MVP this season and appears to be on a Hall of Fame track thanks to his rare blend of power and plate discipline. All that’s left now is for Washington to work out a deal that ensures he will build out that Cooperstown resume with the team that developed him.