The Nationals are in a familiar position. They have a rising star poised for greatness, who has the potential to be the face of baseball, while still just barely able to drink legally. Bryce Harper once filled those shoes in Washington. Now it's Juan Soto's turn, and knowing Mike Rizzo's propensity for thinking years ahead, he already knows there's big decisions to be made with his next face of the franchise.
Harper's path is very much a blueprint to the story of Soto and the Nationals' future. This time though, they shouldn't allow history to repeat itself, and better get ready to pay a lot of money to change it.
Sure, it's not an apples to apples comparison, since Harper had been engulfed with fanfare going back to when he was practically in diapers. He was the top overall pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft, while Soto, after two years in the Nats' system, was ranked just the 42nd-best prospect overall by MLB Pipeline.
The hype was just far greater with Harper at first.
That being said though, the position Soto has been himself in since his call up to the majors back in 2018 is a meteoric rise, to say the least.
Soto became the youngest player in franchise history to hit a home run and the first teenager to homer in a major-league game since Harper did it at age 19 in 2012. In 2019, he became only the fourth player in MLB history to record 100 extra-base hits before his 21st birthday. He later became the seventh MLB player in history to reach 30 home runs before their 21st birthday. Overall in his first full season in 2019, he batted .282/.401/.548 with 110 runs (7th), 108 walks (3rd), 34 home runs, and 110 RBI (9th) along with stealing 12 bases in 13 attempts and was still the 4th-youngest player in the NL.
You almost run out of breath trying to read all those accomplishments.
Oh, and he just so happened to win a World Series and burst onto the national stage with absolutely no fear in the brightest spotlight later that October too.
The Soto Shuffle is truly the greatest thing ever #Nationals #WorldSeries pic.twitter.com/mcx6XO2105— Sports = Life (@SportzzTweetzz) October 31, 2019
I remember saying back in 2018 on radio when Soto first was called up, he was making Harper expendable. Soto had all the intangibles to fill Harper's shoes. Now, with Harper long gone to Philly, Soto is so far entrenched in those shoes his toes are poking out of the front. He's a star. Soto was even part of a virtual commencement day on May 16 along with two U.S. Presidents and other celebrities like LeBron James, Kevin Hart and Alicia Keys.
That's some really good company.
The biggest factor in the future of this relationship is the dynamic between Soto's agent Scott Boras and Rizzo. Both have very set plans of action, know each other well, and clearly see what's down the line. Soto won't be a free agent until he's 26 in 2025, but as Rizzo told NBC Sports Washington, “you always like to have long-term viability with your payroll. Long-term control of players is important. We never vary from the big global picture and it has to correspond what we’re doing in our one-, three-, and five-year plans."
Want to know how Boras feels about Soto? "I would say he is one of the true faces of baseball going forward," Boras told the Nationals Talk podcast. "I think who he is and who he is at such a young age; the youth of baseball, I think Juan will be one of the key figures of his generation going forward."
Oh, and don't forget this at the Winter Meetings: “I would say that with any great player, anything is possible,” Boras said. “You look at it, you evaluate it. And obviously the club has to have a desire to do that as well.”
"The club has to have a desire to do that as well" translates to "hey Rizzo, may that man his money".
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Remember, the Nats still have Trea Turner coming up soon, and will have to think about Victor Robles' future as well.
Soto's personality, talent, youth, and downright marketability makes him one of, if not the most valuable young player to have as part of your franchise in all of baseball. As long as he continues this trajectory, the Nationals need to do everything in their power to make him a National for life.
Of course what comes with all those traits Soto possesses, tied in with a "we never give a hometown discount" agent, is a five year plan that Rizzo surely knows will go by quickly.
Luckily, you already have the blueprints in place from the last plan. This time though, the result needs to be different.
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