For the first time since the end of the 2021 season, reporters got to speak to Washington Nationals General Manager, Mike Rizzo. It’s fair to say that there was a lot to come out of the press conference.
Among the various updates on the team’s plans to finish off the offseason and how players are getting on, Rizzo was asked about the future of his team’s star player, Juan Soto.
Around a month ago, news broke that the Nationals made Soto a huge 13-year, $350 million extension offer right before the lockout began in early Decemeber, an offer that was swiftly turned down by Soto’s camp, knowing that he looks set for a lot more if he makes it to the open market.
Rizzo confirmed that the team did indeed make an offer and that, while conversations haven’t restarted since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, they want to restart those talks as soon as possible.
“We made the offer really right before we couldn’t talk to him anymore,” Rizzo explained.
“So there really wasn’t a lot of dialogue after — because there wasn’t any time.
“We made an offer and all of a sudden the lockout happened, and we didn’t have much dialogue after that, but our side has plans to pick it up very soon. He’s our No. 1 priority.”
When the news of the offer broke, the worry for Nationals fans was that the offer might be a final offer, rather than something to get the conversation started with Soto and his agency.
While $350 million is a lot for most players to turn down, Soto isn’t most players. In truth, it was practically a no-brainer for the young superstar, given the contracts that other players of a similar ilk to him have received lately.
The $29.6 million average annual value would lag behind the likes of Corey Seager, Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout. Given his status as arguably the best hitter in all of baseball, Soto has an argument to exceed all of them in AAV.
There’s plenty of ground for the Nationals to make up on the 13-year, $350 million deal they offered, but based on Rizzo’s comments on Sunday, they’re prepared to make a strong effort to do so.
“We’re going to attack a deal with Juan Soto,” Rizzo said. “This is his team, he’s the face of the franchise, and I want him here for the long-term so we’re going to continue to talk and try to make him a Nat for a long time.”
In the past, the GM has been a bit more reserved with his word choice when talking about stars not far from free agency and wanting to extend them.
Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Trea Turner have all been the subject of extension talks from the team in recent seasons before either leaving in free agency, in the case of Harper and Rendon, or being traded away before they get there, in the case of Turner.
Usually, Rizzo would float out the words “we’d love to have them here long-term” but then quickly caveat it with “we’ll see what happens” or “it takes two to tango” to add some doubt about whether he truly was going to go the whole nine yards for those players.
With Soto, those words have definitely not been minced. He desperately wants to make him a National for life.
“To me, this is Juan Soto’s team,” Rizzo explained. “He’s the face of the team, he's the face of the franchise, he might be the face of Major League Baseball. It’s his team.
“He’s going to be a young leader, but he’s going to be the leader of the club.”
Does that mean that an extension is likely at some point in the foreseeable future? The only people who know that are Soto and his agent, Scott Boras.
The same skillset that makes Rizzo want Soto as the centerpiece of the Nationals’ franchise is the skillset that Soto and Boras are banking on not deteriorating before he’s set to reach free agency at the end of the 2024 season, where 29 other teams will be able to bid on his services.
His mind-blowing plate discipline, his exceptional worth ethic, his skill at the plate. Those are all skills that will stay with him deep into his career and make it unlikely for him to be any worse than he is now, giving him a good chance to rake in a record-breaking deal.
If the Nationals want to keep him around long-term, they’ll have to pay market-rate for him. There aren’t going to be any hometown discounts in this negotiation.
Nationals fans have become accustomed to seeing most of their homegrown stars leaving for pastures new in recent seasons.
If Mike Rizzo has his way, Juan Soto won’t be the latest in that line, though it may not be quite that simple...