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The Nationals are ready to extend Juan Soto, but will he sign on the dotted line?

The Nationals are ready to extend Juan Soto, but will he sign on the dotted line?

The Nationals want to keep Juan Soto in Washington for his entire career.

In other words, water is wet.

Soto has enjoyed a brilliant start to his young career, accumulating 7.1 Wins Above Replacement (and counting) to this point, a remarkable total for someone not yet old enough to legally buy a beer. His batting eye is preternaturally gifted, with an on-base percentage over .400 in each of his first two Major League seasons.

His batting statistics at such a young age compare favorably with inner circle Hall of Famers, and he is already the second-best hitter on the Nationals, while showing steady improvements in the outfield.

Again, he’s doing all this at the ripe old age of 20.

So of course the Nationals are highly motivated to keep Soto in town for as long as possible. Players who are this good, this young, rarely fall short of stardom, as Mike Rizzo is all too aware.

“We would give him 10 years, $180 million tomorrow morning for sure," Rizzo told the Sports Junkies on NBC Sports Washington and 106.7 The Fan Wednesday morning. “But I don't think he's going to accept that."

Baseball’s infrastructure allow the Nats to control Soto’s rights for half a dozen seasons, but as fans witnessed this past offseason with Bryce Harper, that doesn’t mean stars stick around forever.

"These are guys I've seen for years and years and years,” Rizzo continued. “Of course we want to keep them in the system and the organization. We handpick a lot of guys to extend long-term contracts to, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't."

The Nationals are going to have to pay up to keep a young talent like Soto on their roster, and history suggests the best chance to do so at a reasonable price is right now. The younger a player is, the further away he is from the allure of a big free agent pay day, and the more interested he likely is in financial security.

It is for reasons like this that another NL East contender was able to lock down not one, but two young talents for many years to come. The Braves took advantage of middling signing bonuses given to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies, extending the two on an 8-year, $100 million deal, and 7-year, $35 million deal, respectively.

As Rizzo notes, in order to sign Soto, the Nats will likely have to pay significantly more than those two contracts. Combined. 

Not only is Soto represented by Scott Boras, the superagent with whom the Nationals have a long relationship, but Soto has more financial security than Acuña or Albies did. Each was signed as an international free agent, but while the Braves pair signed for a combined $450,000, Soto came to the Nats for $1.5 million. 

The team’s interest in Soto is not just for his on-field exploits, but for the person he is in the clubhouse and beyond.

"He's a superstar and a super person,” Rizzo said while describing Soto. “A guy you want to have around your team for a long time. What you guys don't understand is we're all-in on these long-term extensions, but it's a two-way street. Both sides have to do it. We're invested in these guys, both financially and emotionally.”

It’s a little early for Nationals fans to start worrying about Juan Soto jumping ship the way Bryce Harper did or Anthony Rendon might yet do. The negotiation process is a long one, and as NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas wrote in April, the Nationals are still in the very early stages with Soto.

Still, it's fun to imagine Juan Soto in the nation’s capital for the next decade-plus. Soto has already earned the right to a megadeal if he wants one. As Rizzo reminds fans, it’s a two-way street, and only time will tell if Soto is as interested in the Nationals as the Nationals are in Juan Soto.

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Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Wild-card tracker: Nationals thankful for Marlins, Cubs slide back

Back before all this mania, Miami, as putrid as its season would be, loomed as a factor.

Handling the Marlins would be key for any contender. It wasn’t a question of winning, but of how much winning would occur against one of the league’s worst teams.

Following Friday’s 6-4 win in a sparsely attended Marlins Park, the Nationals moved to 14-3 against Miami this season. They are 16 games over. 500 for the year. They are plus-11 against Miami alone.

Asdrúbal Cabrera homered again, Trea Turner hit two homers, and Daniel Hudson pitched two innings to earn the save. So, the Nationals, 84-68, hold a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot. Milwaukee won again, joining a long list of teams to beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates since the post-All-Star-break portion of the schedule began. Pittsburgh may be the league’s worst team, at the moment, and the Brewers host it for two more this weekend.

Trouble is brewing for Chicago. It lost again to St. Louis -- this time a 2-1 mid-day defeat in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost four in a row. They are three games behind the Nationals and two behind the Brewers. Their path to 90 wins, which may ultimately be the threshold for postseason entrance, is narrowing.

The Mets won their third consecutive game. They are hanging around, 3 ½ games behind the Brewers with nine remaining on the schedule. Their wild-card elimination number is six.

News for Philadelphia is more dire. The Phillies dropped to 78-74 Friday night following a 5-2 loss in Cleveland. They are now five behind Milwaukee. Their wild-card elimination number is a mere five. 

Which brings us to the more detailed math portion of this program. Here are the postseason chances for each team, according to fivethirtyeight.com:

Nationals, 96 percent

Brewers, 84 percent

Cubs, 15 percent

Mets, 5 percent

Phillies, less than one percent

Coming up Saturday:

St. Louis at Chicago, 2:20 p.m., Hudson (16-7, 3.35 ERA) vs. Quintana (13-8, 4.37)

New York at Cincinnati, 4:10 p.m., Wheeler (11-7, 4.09) vs. DeSclafani (9-9, 3.93)

Washington at Miami, 6:10 p.m., Strasburg (17-6, 3.49) vs. Yamamoto (4-5, 4.87)

Philadelphia at Cleveland, 7:10 p.m., Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. Plesac (8-6, 3.64)

Pittsburgh at Milwaukee, 7:10 p.m., Marvel (0-2, 9.00) vs. Davies (10-7, 3.70)

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Howie Kendrick needed the Nationals, and they needed him

Howie Kendrick needed the Nationals, and they needed him

Howie Kendrick knew he was in trouble May 19, 2018, when he was down on the warning track and could not control his ankle. His Achilles tendon tore after he moved back for a fly ball in left field. His season ended. His career could have well ended with his season.

Last offseason’s shift in free agency affected those still in their prime. The market tormented Bryce Harper and Manny Machado before forking over large sums. It treated veterans destined to be part-time players worse. Super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez didn’t sign with Minnesota until Feb. 25. He turned 30 in April and was coming off a 2.5-WAR season for a team that went to the American League Championship Series. Yet, he couldn’t find a job anywhere.

This would have been Kendrick’s plight. Perhaps it would have been more challenging. He may never have found a job via a new contract. Think of the advertisement: soon-to-be 36-year-old coming off Achilles tendon tear, with reduced positional flexibility and past hamstring problems, seeks part-time work. 

Kendrick vowed from the start he would be back, healthy, and just ride out the recovery timeline as it was dictated. The second year of his contract made the process easier. It also all but assured him of a job again with Washington. At just $4 million, even as a bench player, Kendrick’s salary was easy to accept. If he showed good health and a quick bat in spring, he would again team with Matt Adams as a potent left-right combination off the bench. The second-year saved him from graveling in the offseason.

“if that was the last year of my deal, I don’t know if I would have been in the Major Leagues this year,” Kendrick said. “Because a lot of times the way the league is now, bringing veteran guys back and being around the game, you don't see too many veteran guys around anymore. 

“Having the ability to come back to a place I really enjoy and get to be around these guys... It's been fun. We got a lot of great young guys here, guys like [Victor Robles], [Juan] Soto, [Anthony] Rendon, [Trea] Turner, those guys they keep you going every day and it's been fun. And it’s been cool to be able to see these guys grow and they've helped me out too with my game.”

Kendrick is having his best offensive season. Delivering it this year became an enormous factor in the Nationals’ survival and turnaround. Ryan Zimmerman has been to the plate 168 times in 2019. Kendrick has filled the gap with one of the most potent part-time -- rightfully not full-time -- bats in the majors.

His OPS-plus is a career-high 142. His second-best season in that category? Back in 2011, when he was 27 years old in Los Angeles. His OPS is 119 points higher than any other season, his slugging percentage 88 points higher. He’s two homers shy of tying his career-best mark despite 237 fewer plate appearances than he had in 2011.

“I'm not an everyday guy anymore and I know that and [Davey Martinez] knows and I'm not going to complain one bit about the way I’ve been used,” Kendrick said. “When I play, I play. When I don't, I’m ready to play and go in the game and I’ve kind of streamlined that process a little more, I’ve figured out, being in the National League how to prepare myself and be ready. 

“We've come up with little drills for when we pinch-hit and things like that to be as ready as we can. And then once you get in the game, whatever’s going to happen is gonna happen, and that’s what I try to look at. Keep the same mindset as hey I prepared and I’m going to go out here and try to do my job and that's' all you can ask for. I think your teammates know that, and I think your coaches know that. I think that’s the biggest part of it, and mentally you just have to know you're not always going to succeed.” 

Though this year, he has -- a lot. 

Kendrick’s career-best season exists because he didn’t have to wade through the market. The second year of his contract provided him a work haven despite his age and major injury. His work during it likely created a chance for him to sign yet another one, something which may have otherwise not happened in the first place.

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