The All-Star outfielder recently turned down an offer from the Washington Nationals that would have made him the highest-paid player in baseball history, and the team now plans to entertain trade offers for him, a seismic development leading to the Aug. 2 deadline.
Soto, 23, rejected a 15-year, $440 million offer, sources said. The proposal, the Nationals’ third in recent months, did not include any deferred money, a departure from the team’s usual practice. The two biggest guarantees in club history, $245 million for right-hander Stephen Strasburg and $210 million for righty Max Scherzer, included significant deferrals, lowering the present-day values of the deals.
The Nationals’ offer exceeded in total dollars the 12-year, $426.5 million contract Mike Trout signed with the Angels in March 2019. Soto would have received an average salary of $29.33 million, the 20th-highest in baseball history, with the deal extending from his Ages 24 to 38 seasons, effectively making him a National for the rest of his career.
Soto’s agent, Scott Boras, however, generally prefers his clients to establish their values on the market. Soto is on track to become a free agent entering his Age 26 season, and possibly could seek a deal of more than $500 million. Boras was not immediately available for comment.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo on June 1 told 106.7 the Fan, a Washington D.C. radio station, that the team would not trade Soto before the deadline. Instead, Rizzo said, the team wanted to make Soto the centerpiece of its rebuilding plan.
“We are not trading Juan Soto,” Rizzo said. “We made it clear to his agent (Boras) and to the player. … We have every intention of building this team around Juan Soto.”
Soto’s rejection of $440 million, however, altered the equation, sources said, leaving club officials believing that if they cannot sign him for that money, they never will. The Nationals view their exploration of a Soto trade as due diligence. He is under club control for the rest of this season and then two more. The team does not need to trade him immediately if it does not get a desired offer.
Soto, batting .247 with 19 homers and an .895 OPS, is performing below his usual levels, but has gotten hot in July.
Any team that acquired him would control him for three pennant races. That number will decrease to two once the deadline passes, lowering his future trade value. Soto, earning $17.1 million, also is likely to receive significant raises in his final two years of salary arbitration.
The prospective sale of the Nationals, owned by the Lerner family since 2006, is another factor in the team’s approach to Soto. As the Lerners consider selling the team, they wanted to clarify their position with Soto for prospective buyers. Soto is an asset, but not if his contract is so big that it would make it difficult for the Nationals to build around him.
The Nationals (32-60) have the worst record in the majors. Trading Soto would be a way to replenish their depleted farm system, which The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked 27th out of the 30 major-league franchises.