Luis Garcia is a walking financial variable. Yes, he’s one of the Nationals’ top prospects as a 19-year-old middle infielder. Yes, his future earnings could be a large sum. But, that’s not why he is so pivotal to future expenditures.
Garcia could be the next round of inexpensive success the Nationals use to pay other people. Juan Soto and Victor Robles are currently in that state. The pair is severely outplaying their contracts. If 2020 operated like a regular season, Soto and Robles would combine for just more than $1 million in salary. Their performance last season was worth about $58 million based on WAR. So, a slight bargain.
What players can’t stand -- the excessive, low-cost team control of contracts at the start -- enables organizations to pay out later. At least in theory. Two winters ago, when teams stopped paying free agents in a style which contrasted with the past, players began to grow irritated, thinking they were losing on both ends of the financial spectrum. However, things picked up last winter and appeared to return to normal.
So, when a Soto and Robles situation arises, an organization can pay an extra year for a left-handed starter other teams also wanted. They can make an offer to an MVP finalist third baseman -- even if it’s a substandard one. The flexibility is paramount, especially for an organization so desperate to stay below the competitive balance tax threshold, as Washington is.
Soto and Robles become free agents the same year: 2025. In the interim, they will enter arbitration in 2022, significantly increasing their cost year-by-year. By the time 2025 comes around, each will be making around $20 million or more, assuming their performance remains the same (or improves) the next five years.
Simultaneously, Trea Turner is creeping toward free agency in 2023. Here’s what he told NBC Sports Washington over the winter about his contract future:
“For me, I’m gray on a lot of areas,” Turner said. “If the deal (for an extension is) right, if I like it, I’m not scared to take it. Same thing, if it’s not right, I’m not going to settle. Everyone I think knows their worth, [they] at least think they’re worth something -- whatever that is, high, low, willing to take less or try to get more.
“For me, I’m all ears. I’ll listen and communicate. At the end of the day, I like it here. I don’t think the grass is always greener on the other side, per se, and I’m happy where I’m at. If it comes to that, I’ll be happy to play here hopefully my entire career if they’ll let me. But, I’m also weighing all options. I think everybody should. If you don’t listen, I think it’s a little foolish.”
Which brings us to Garcia. His hot spring indicated progress. It caught the attention of the front office folks and on-field staff -- not that they weren’t specifically eyeing such a high-level prospect to begin with.
“Our young middle infielder Luis Garcia really showed that he’s getting closer to being major-league ready,” Mike Rizzo recently said on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio channel. “A few nuances of his game need to come together for him to have the full package. But you’re talking about a young kid that more than held his own at the Double-A level. A guy that can stay in the middle of the field, can stay at shortstop if we need him to be and has a real propensity to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. Power we think is going to come later. Son of a major-leaguer. Has a lot of the intangibles and things we like in our prospects. He’s a guy that really opened up a lot of eyes, not only on the ownership level, but on the major-league staff level.”
So, Garcia’s progress matters because of the future team control. He will be 20 years old on May 16. He will be 22 years old when Turner can become a free agent. If the Nationals don’t want to pay Turner, and Garcia appears ready, they could swap him in and allocate some of the money to retaining Soto or Robles. Max Scherzer’s $35 million salary is coming off the books in two years (if they don’t extend or resign him). That’s more money for one of the outfielders. Or Turner.
Along the way, the Nationals will have a decision to make: do they pay Turner, play Garcia at second base, then try to pay one of Soto and Robles? Or do they not pay Turner, play Garcia at shortstop, then try to pay both outfielders?
This is all predicated on Garcia not just making it to the majors, but being a high-level player at a bottom-dwelling cost. Which is why his future isn’t just about him. It’s also about some of the team’s most important players.
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