This past weekend a shockwave was sent through baseball: Washington Nationals wunderkind Juan Soto recently rejected a 15-year extension worth $440 million, and the club will entertain trade offers as a result. Soto is on the very short list of the game’s best players and he can not become a free agent until after 2024. Players like this rarely become available.
Earlier this year Nationals GM Mike Rizzo emphatically said the club will not trade Soto, and they intend to build around him moving forward. Here’s what Rizzo said during a radio interview:
“We are not trading Juan Soto. We’ve made it clear to his agent and to the player … We have every intention of building this team around Juan Soto. We’ve spoken to his agent many, many times — recently sat with him when he was in Washington D.C., made it clear to him that we are not interested in trading him, and I guess the rest of the world just doesn’t believe it. But that’s our position.”
Obviously things have changed. The Nationals lost 97 games a year ago and have baseball’s worst record this year. At minimum, Rizzo and his staff should be willing to listen to offers for Soto, especially since signing him long-term has proven to be difficult. It never hurts to listen and Rizzo wouldn’t doing his job if he didn’t consider all possibilities.
Monday afternoon Soto, who is representing Washington at the All-Star Game, spoke with reporters for the first time since word got out the Nationals will entertain trade offers. He does not seem thrilled his name is now popping up in trade rumors a month after Rizzo said the team plans to keep him.
“A couple weeks ago, they were saying they will never trade me,” Soto said Monday (video). “And now all these things come out. It feels really uncomfortable. You don’t know what to trust. At the end of the day, it’s out of my hands what decision they make.”
Soto, who is still only 23, is hitting .240/.405/.497 with 79 walks and 54 strikeouts in what can plausibly be considered a down season for him. There is a precedent for a player this good and this young being traded: Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins traded a 24-year-old Cabrera to the Tigers when he was two years away from free agency back in Dec. 2007.
Given how good and how young he is, and how long he’ll remain under team control, the other 29 teams all figure to check in on Soto. The question is which team can pony up the prospects, and will the Nationals seek to unload some bad money (like Patrick Corbin’s contract) in the trade? The trade deadline is two weeks and one day away.