All eyes will be on Juan Soto over the next 13 days. With the annual amateur draft and All-Star Game now in the rearview mirror, what figures to be a frenzied and condensed summer trade market will be up and running. Soto’s recent rejection of a 15-year, $440MM contract extension has already drawn countless headlines, and his reported subsequent availability on the trade market will generate unprecedented intrigue.
Agent Scott Boras addressed Soto’s decision to turn down what would’ve been the largest total guarantee in MLB history this week, first in an interview with James Wagner of the New York Times and then with Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman of the New York Post on their podcast, “The Show.” There were plenty of factors in the decision, but Boras suggested that the average annual value, the potential sale of the franchise and uncertainty about the team’s direction all weighed heavily.
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“I don’t think anybody wants to work for someone they don’t know,” Boras told Wagner. “So it’s kind of a ghost contract. We don’t know who’s going to pay it. Consequently, when you’re a player like Juan, you’re a winning player and you want to make sure there’s a lot more things than dollars and cents involved and who you’re going to work for and where you’re going to be for the majority.”
In his appearance with Sherman and Heyman, Boras spoke about the respect Soto has for the Lerner family and the commitment they’ve shown to winning over the years, but the direction of an incoming ownership group can’t be known at this time. Even if a swift return to contention is the goal, the Nationals’ bleak farm system, lack of big league talent on the current roster, and the strong division in which they play all coalesce to make an immediate rebound unlikely. Soto is surely aware of this.
“Juan Soto has a ring on his finger and he has had people that he knows and trusted ever since his inception with the franchise, but now that group of people has said, ’We’re going to move on and assign this team to another group,’” said Boras, in reference to the Lerner family’s likely sale of the franchise. “…When you’re a player, you can talk about being offered things, but it doesn’t carry with it the intentions [of ownership] and the security of winning — the goals of the player that are beyond economic.”
As one would expect, the potential sale of the Nationals is a complicating factor in both extension and trade talks. It’s understandable if Soto prefers to wait to see what happens with the franchise to get a feel for a new owner’s mentality. Conversely, whether Soto is or isn’t with the team will have an impact on the sale of the team itself. Boras is, unsurprisingly, of the mind that Soto is an asset who’ll enhance the team’s appeal for prospective buyers, as “billionaires certainly like their choices” and will want the option of whether to build around Soto or commit to an early rebuild.
ESPN’s Buster Olney sees things differently, saying on yesterday’s Baseball Tonight podcast that executives around the game believe new owners will want the situation resolved one way or another before taking over. With an extension likely off the table, that would mean completing a trade before the sale of the team goes through. Of course, we don’t yet know who the new owners will be, so that’s a speculative view of the scenario (much like Boras’ belief that the new owners will want the chance to make the choice themselves).
Even in the absence of the current ownership uncertainty, however, Boras seemed to intimate that the Nationals’ offer simply wouldn’t have been sufficient. As we saw with Aaron Judge prior to the season, being paid at an annual rate that’s commensurate with baseball’s top stars appears important to Soto.
“The rarity of Juan Soto, this is from age 19 to 23, so he’s really separated himself to be in a very small group, among Major League history, of performance levels,” said Boras.”[Those players] are going to be at the highest order of average annual values, and yet the proposal placed him well below the top group, in the No. 15 or 20 range.”
All of that lines up to further cement the reality that Soto will at least be available in talks over the coming two weeks, but it’s wholly unclear whether any team will meet what will be a historic asking price. Olney suggested in that previously referenced segment that the Nationals are going to want Major League-ready talent to headline a return and, of note, added that the Yankees and Dodgers are at least somewhat wary of surrendering the type of enormous prospect value Soto will command. The Yankees, of course, also have the future of their own superstar outfielder (Judge) to consider in conjunction with any theoretical Soto scenarios, which only further complicates the equation on their end.