As the Nationals have churned toward their third losing season in as many years, a potential team sale has loomed over the organization.
The Lerner family, owners of the ballclub since 2006, reportedly began exploring the possibility of selling the Nationals in April. It’s a situation that has added an extra wrinkle to the club’s plans for Juan Soto, their 23-year-old superstar who turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension earlier this month.
After rejecting all three of the extension offers the Nationals made this season, Soto landed on the trade block ahead of the Aug. 2 deadline. While it’s no guarantee Washington moves him, President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday that he will “explore all our options.”
However, he pushed back on the assertion that an ownership change is going to affect his plans one way or another.
“We are business as usual,” Rizzo said. “It has not factored in one bit to the decision-making process that we do. My bosses are the Lerners. They give me my marching orders and we put the plan in place and it has not affected us one bit.”
Even if Rizzo isn’t considering the team sale in his thought process, the presence of Soto on the roster — or lack thereof — has a substantial effect on the price of the team. The young phenom is not only one of the best players in the sport, he’s also the biggest marketing tool the Nationals have on their roster. Amid their ongoing “reboot,” as Rizzo called it, Soto is one of the few Nationals players worth paying the price of admission to see.
By trading him now, the Nationals would hope to acquire a package that speeds the reboot up.
“We’re in conversations [about] Juan Soto with several teams that I think have real interest in him,” Rizzo said. “I’m not going to handicap if we’re going to trade him or not. I will say this: We’re going to have to get the deal that we want that makes the most sense, that gets us an opportunity to become a championship organization faster than not trading him.”
Rizzo has pointed numerous times to the three-year process it took for him and the Nationals’ front office to build the organization into annual contenders. He became GM in 2009, a season in which Washington lost 103 games and drafted Stephen Strasburg with the No. 1 pick. By 2012, the Nationals had risen to a first-place team with championship aspirations.
With or without Soto, Rizzo sees that timeline as attainable for the franchise once again.
“We see this organization going in the right direction,” Rizzo said. “We’ve done it before. Not many teams can say, ‘Here’s our plan,’ and prove that it works. We have done that. We’ve done it, we’ve come from the depths of bad seasons, with 100-loss seasons, to 98 wins in 2012 relatively quickly and we think that we’re on the same pace or even quicker to get it done this time.”