With the worst record in baseball, and slogging through their longest losing streak of 2022, the Washington Nationals now look like the hottest team on the trade market as the major leagues head into the All-Star Break.
Hours before the Nats dropped their ninth straight, 6-3 to the Atlanta Braves, Nationals fans were jolted out of bed on an otherwise sleepy summer Saturday with the news the team will reportedly be entertaining offers for Juan Soto.
The once untouchable, 23-year-old superstar who was supposedly at the center of General Manager Mike Rizzo’s reboot is suddenly on the market after rejecting a 15-year $440 million offer.
In his fifth big league season, and two and a half years before he’s due to hit the market as a free agent, Soto is turning the corner in a year when opposing pitchers have rarely offered him anything worth swinging at.
Soto is slashing .425/.589/.850 in July after going 2-for-4 Saturday, with the first hit extending his career-best on-base streak to 25-straight games.
He’s a National League All-Star for the second straight season and certainly will get votes for NL MVP if he finishes the season the way he did last year.
So with baseball’s summer showcase on deck and the team for sale, the Nationals picked now to offer him a deal that would make him the highest-paid player in the history of the game.
Currently earning $17.1 million after his first year of arbitration eligibility, Soto could be worth considerably more than what the Nationals offered by the time he becomes a free-agent following the 2024 season.
The Nationals seem to be playing off the move to entertain trade offers as due diligence. But it has already sparked talk of a blockbuster trade, with comparisons to the Dallas Cowboys’ 1989 trade of Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for eight draft picks that the Cowboys parlayed into an NFL dynasty.
The Nats may get offers that would stock their farm system and fill the lineup with hot prospects, but pulling the trigger is another matter.
A more apt comparison than the Herschel Walker deal in football might be the 2007 deal that sent Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers from a rebuilding Marlins franchise.
For Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, the Tigers traded away five prospects who made the majors: Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, and Mike Rabelo. A sixth, Dallas Trahern, never made it out of the minors.
The Marlins had two winning seasons before embarking on another decade of losing. The Tigers built a team around Cabrera that would make four straight postseason appearances and win an American League pennant from 2011 to 2014.
A raft of prospects might look good to the Nationals right now, but trading away a young superstar and the only regular position player left from the 2019 Word Series championship team requires a lot of deliberation.
The idea of rebuilding the Nationals around Soto seemed reasonable.
The idea of rebuilding without him seems ridiculous.
Even with the major league pitching staff in disarray and its future in doubt, having Soto for another two seasons after this one offered hope of some stability, hope that the franchise would have an anchor.
Without Soto, a sure-fire superstar and potential Hall of Famer as that anchor, the Nationals risk collapse, no matter how many prospects they can fetch.