Over the past few years, late-February to mid-March has been peak season for MLB teams to offer contract extensions to some of their franchise players.
Fernando Tatis Jr. recently agreed to a mammoth extension with the San Diego Padres on February 17th. Mike Trout agreed to his current contract on March 19th, 2019. Also in 2019, Nolan Arenado and the Colorado Rockies agreed to his extension on February 26th.
One reason for the timing of those extensions is that teams have most of their roster set after free agency and trades in the offseason where they had to compete with other teams, meaning they can then bring their focus back to taking care of their current players.
The other reason is that most players are more receptive to talks outside of the season, as during the season they want to just focus on playing and not on contract negotiations.
So, could the Washington Nationals take the plunge and offer one or both of their young stars, Juan Soto and Trea Turner, a deal to stay in the nation’s capital long-term?
General Manager Mike Rizzo has previously stated that there have been conversations between the Nationals and the players’ representatives about extensions in the past, but as evidenced by the lack of a new contract, those talks didn’t go anywhere substantive.
When asked on Monday about the current state of play in regards to possible extensions for Soto and Turner, the team’s GM seemed to indicate talks could resume in the near future.
“We’ve discussed internally with ownership about it,” Rizzo explained. “We’re in the midst of making decisions on what a timeframe would look like.
“And again, it goes back to my early press conference where we talked about it as we certainly would love to. We certainly have made and will make a long-term extension offer to both players sometime in the near future.”
It takes two to tango in contract negotiations though.
The Nationals can offer whatever they like to either player, but it requires the other side to accept that offer and with free agency and a potential big payday in the future for both players, it’s not necessarily going to be easy to find a mutual agreement.
“For me, it’s risk versus reward,” Turner told reporters via Zoom in February about signing an extension before reaching free agency.
“It’s a simple concept but it’s very hard to come to an answer.
“Do you feel like you’ve played your best baseball? Do you feel like you have way more to prove? Do you want to bet on yourself? Do you want to have security?
“I think a lot of these things you can’t put a blanket answer on every player. Each individual has got different family situations, different thoughts about a city, different confidence in themselves, or interests in the game or whatever it may be.
“There’s so much gray for me, that I think each person needs to do what makes them happy, and I think that’s also hard to do because teams have to be willing to give you the money that you want and you have to be willing to stay long-term with the team.”
Turner, whose free agency is now only two seasons away, also reiterated his desire to stay in Washington for the rest of his career, ticking at least one of the boxes that he mentioned.
“I would love to play here my entire career,” Turner said. “I’ve said in the past I’ve always liked it here and don’t think the grass is greener on the other side necessarily, but it’s a business and things change.
“But as of right now I would love to play here for my entire career. I love it here, I love the atmosphere and the ballclub that [GM Mike] Rizzo and the coaching staff has put together every single year, and we’ll see.”
For Soto, however, his long-term future isn’t something that he’s necessarily focusing on right now.
Instead, he’s keeping his focus on the field rather than on any off-field negotiations.
“For me, right now, I just try to come here to play baseball,” Soto said of his thoughts about his future in Washington. “I don’t think about anything like that.
“Every time I come to Spring Training, my mind is on baseball. I try to get my body in shape, get ready, and try to win another championship.”
That’s fine. Plenty of players are fairly hands-off with contract negotiations, especially when the season rolls around, and will let their agents handle that side of things while they focus on playing.
However, the obvious elephant in the room that Soto is represented by Scott Boras, the agent well-known for advising his clients to go to free agency and maximize their earnings rather than signing a long-term extension before then.
Soto could be just the second player after Trout to exceed the $400 million total contract value and be the first to do so as a free agent if he makes it to the open market. He could even exceed Trout’s $430 million contract with several teams bidding against each other.
That’s a pretty tempting proposition for the 22-year-old. But, as ever, there’s always a price that would likely prevent that if the Nats are willing to make an offer Soto and Boras can’t refuse.
Whether it’s possible or not is still unclear, but if the Nationals were able to sign both players long-term, it would set a special foundation for the franchise, according to Turner.
“I would love to play my entire career here, I would love for [Soto] to play his entire career here, but we’ll see. Those are big, big questions, and you’ve got to kind of take it day-by-day, and if it happens, that would be special.”