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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