Before Juan Soto signs an extension with the Nationals, “the first thing that’s going to have to happen is that he knows that he’s working with an ownership that’s going to annually try to compete and win,” agent Scott Boras told The Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty and other reporters. “And then I think once he knows that, then he’ll be ready to sit down and talk whenever they choose to talk.”
Soto’s time in D.C. has already produced one World Series title, of course, and the Nationals have been one of the league’s better terms over the last decade, as president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo noted to Dougherty and company. That said, the Nats have also finished in last place in both seasons since that 2019 championship, and traded away a significant amount of veteran talent at the last trade deadline. It seems like the team will reload to some extent this offseason, but it is unclear whether or not the Nationals will make a full-on plunge to try and compete as soon as 2022.
Rizzo did make some indication towards a bigger push this winter, as when asked if he would like to see Kyle Schwarber back in Washington, Rizzo responded with “Why wouldn’t we? I love him.” (hat tip to Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe) After being non-tendered by the Cubs last winter, Schwarber signed in D.C. for a one-year deal worth $10MM in guaranteed money, but his price tag for a return will be much steeper after his huge bounce-back season. Bringing Schwarber back would be a clear sign of the Nationals’ intent to contend, and he would also give Soto some much-needed lineup protection.
Even amidst the team’s struggles in 2021, Soto continued to make his case as arguably the game’s best hitter. Soto hit .313/.465/.534 with 29 home runs over 654 plate appearances, and has now produced four all-world seasons before his 23rd birthday. Given Soto’s youth and his already-incredible production, it is very easy to imagine that a Soto extension would be the most expensive contract in baseball history.
Soto is projected to earn $16.2MM in his second year of arbitration eligibility, a massive raise commensurate with his continued great numbers. Though Soto is still under arbitration control through 2024 as a Super Two player, “we’re not in the mind-set where we got him under control for three more years and have three years to wait. That’s not our view,” Rizzo said. The Nationals might not immediately jump into deep extension talks, however, as Rizzo said the club will wait until after the new collective bargaining agreement is settled “just to see what the rules are” for baseball’s business going forward.
In the more immediate future, Rizzo is focused on making another change to the Nats’ front office. In another piece from Dougherty, Rizzo said the team is going to hire a new director of player development, and candidates from both within and outside the organization will be considered. Assistant GM Mark Scialabba had been in charge of player development but will now move to the player personnel division, while former baseball ops coordinator John Wulf has been promoted to assistant director of player development.