The Nationals attempted to lock up their homegrown superstar Juan Soto earlier this month by offering him a 15-year, $440 million contract extension. He declined, sending ripples across the industry and prompting a report from The Athletic that suggested Washington would consider trading him as soon as the Aug. 2 deadline.
Soto, 23, has emerged as one of the best players in MLB since coming up with the Nationals in 2018. In just four-and-a-half seasons, he has compiled an impressive assortment of accolades that include a World Series championship, two Silver Sluggers, a pair of All-Star appearances and a Home Run Derby title that he took home Monday night.
With the Lerner family trending toward selling the team in the near future, the club offered a record amount to Soto in hopes of keeping him in D.C. long past when his current contract expires after the 2024 season. His agent, Scott Boras, sat down with the New York Post’s Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman on Tuesday for their podcast, “The Show,” and explained that Soto was never going to accept the offer in its current form.
“He’s really separated himself to be in a very small group among major-league history of performance levels,” Boras said. “So they’re gonna be at the highest order of average annual values and yet the proposal placed him…well below the top group, in the 15 or 20 range and obviously that made the contract something that was really not even the range of consideration because players obviously expect to be treated historically.
“When you’re the greatest young player in the game and you have youth and you’re gonna be a 26-year-old free agent, not since [Alex Rodríguez] have I had player that’s been that good and that young of a free agent.”
Washington’s offer was nothing to scoff at — the total guarantee would’ve been the most of any player in the history of North American sports. Yet for a player of Soto’s caliber, and considering how MLB’s revenues have skyrocketed over the last decade, it also wasn’t market rate.
The deal carried an AAV of $29.3 million, which would rank 20th in the history of major-league contracts between Roger Clemens ($28 million) and Manny Machado ($30 million). Rodríguez’s first free agent contract, signed in 2001 entering his age-25 season, set then-records for both total value ($252 million) and AAV ($25.2 million).
MLB’s current holders of those records are Mike Trout at $426.5 million and Max Scherzer, whose three-year deal with the New York Mets last offseason had an AAV of $43.3 million. Boras, speaking in general terms, argued that Scherzer’s deal was relevant to negotiations for young superstar hitters even with the large disparity in the number of years. New York Yankees starter Gerrit Cole has the highest AAV for a player on a deal of 10-plus years at $36 million.
But in addition to the holdup over the financial figures, Soto was also hesitant to sign with the Nationals before gaining clarity on their ownership situation.
“When you’re a player, you can talk about being offered things, but it doesn’t carry with it the intentions and the security of winning, the goals of the player that are beyond economic,” Boras said. “They’ve certainly been attempting to do this for a while and Juan has said, ‘I want to make sure I know who and why and what this organization is going to do.’
The Nationals entered the All-Star Break with the worst record in baseball at 31-63. Though President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo has spoken at length about how the team views its current direction as a “reboot” rather than a full-scale rebuild, a new ownership group could come in this offseason and have a completely different vision.
Both Boras and Soto suggested that the leak of the offer came from the Nationals’ side. The widespread response to the news that Soto might be on the trade block from analysts and rival executives was clear: acquiring Soto would demand a record-setting return. There has never been a player of Soto’s age and pedigree traded — even Babe Ruth was heading into his age-25 season when the Yankees purchased his contract from the Boston Red Sox.
“The idea of, why would a team do this? The answer they would do it is for me is that they want all the suitors to know they have the greatest asset in the game and they have put a mark on that greatest asset that is monetary,” Boras said. “And by the way, they are selling the team for a monetary value. So it’s a can do, excuse me, let me take you to the backyard and show you my ocean view.
“It is something that I understand why they would do it, I know the merit of it, but the thing is it’s something for a player that when you are dealing with characteristics that are custom and practice of how players think and how they are valued, you would never offer a player, something that is a brilliant player like Juan Soto at his age, an AAV that is so far down the ladder because you know immediately that he’s not going to accept it.”