Here’s why a Juan Soto trade is not inevitable

July 26th, 2022

You may find this hard to believe, given the recent conversation. But the Nationals are not, in fact, required to trade Juan Soto. They certainly don’t have to move him in the next eight days. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it. But they have plenty of time, and more leverage than you might think.

Soto, rather famously, recently turned down a contract offer from Washington that would have been worth 15 years and $440 million. That has led to a couple of faulty conclusions. One is the above: That the Nats now have no choice. The other is that there is no deal that Soto could possibly agree to. To understand why the first is flawed, you must first understand that the second is flawed as well.

The proposed deal would have been the highest total value in the history of the sport. But it would not have made him the highest-paid player -- currently, or ever -- on a per-year basis. It is entirely conceivable that other contract structures might be more appealing to Soto -- if not now, then sometime in the next two-plus seasons.

Yes, two-plus. For all the hysteria around Soto, he’s under team control for two more full seasons. The Nationals could elect to go year by year with Soto, keeping him through 2024. That’s enough time for their young talent to mature, and perhaps to add some around them. A contending '24 Nats team is not that hard to envision.

Obviously, letting Soto go for a Draft pick after 2024 is not the best-case scenario. But this is not binary. It’s not as simple as “sign him now, or never ever sign him.”

Next week, or next month, or this winter, the Nationals could offer a deal covering, say, the first three years of his free-agent eligibility at a higher average annual value. That’s not to say Soto would accept, but it’s a completely different conversation than the one surrounding a deal that would have kept him in Washington for the entire rest of his playing career.

That last part is key. There’s a huge unknown staring Soto and the Nationals in the face right now -- the future of the club’s ownership. The Lerner family has said it is considering the possibility of selling the team, and that colors every part of this decision by both player and front office.

To ask Soto to commit for 15 years when he does not know who will be making final decisions on the players, coaches, and management around him is quite a request. It’s one for which he obviously would have been handsomely compensated, but the deal would also have come with risk.

So let’s say that matter is settled in the next 12-16 months. Is it really that hard to imagine Soto signing then, with that huge unknown removed? Of course not. And if you resolve the ownership, and explore other contract structures, and he still doesn’t want to accept? Then you can move him.

Which brings us to the other reason so many people seem so certain that Washington must make a move now: the trade value. Is there more trade value in 400 games of Soto than 160? Of course. Would he lose all value if they waited until his last year before free agency to move him? That’s just silly. He’d still be immensely valuable.

There’s a case to be made that you simply can’t get full value for him right now anyway. Soto is a 23-year-old superstar whose list of most comparable players at his age includes Frank Robinson, Miguel Cabrera, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Ken Griffey Jr. Maybe you get the Mark Teixeira package, but maybe you don’t. At some point, there’s only so much any team will give up for one player -- even one of the most valuable players in the sport.

It’s possible that Washington looks at this situation and decides the correct move is to trade its signature player. It’s even possible that such a deal would make the organization better in the long run. But whatever the Nationals decide to do, they have a decision to make. They have a choice.