It’s a new era for the Washington Nationals. In a major deadline selloff in July, the club traded Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, Jon Lester, Daniel Hudson, Brad Hand and Josh Harrison. Anyone who was healthy and productive was shipped out of town. Well, almost anyone. Juan Soto stayed.
Even though the team is clearly stripping things down for the short-term, it always made sense to hang onto an incredible talent like Soto since he still has three years of team control remaining after 2021. The club targeted MLB-ready prospects in their deadline deals such as Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz, specifically to get back into contention while Soto is still on the club. But why not keep him around past 2024 and get rid of that ticking clock scenario?
Back in August, Soto said he wanted to go year by year, which would seem to indicate he’s not terribly motivated to put pen to paper. After all, he’s already banked some money, having reached Super Two status last offseason. He and the club avoided arbitration and agreed to a salary of $8.5MM for this season. But players have often made similar statements and still gone on to sign extensions when the numbers were big enough. For example, Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor had extension rumors swirling around them for years, rumors that they consistently shrugged off until they finally got what they wanted. In both cases, they were just one season away from free agency.
So, what would it take to lock up someone like Soto and keep him away from the open market? Let’s look at some numbers. Soto is going to finish this season with three years and 134 days’ service time. The largest extension ever given out for a player between three and four years’ service time is Freddie Freeman’s eight-year, $135MM contract, signed at the start of the 2014 season. But Soto now has more earning power than Freeman did then. First of all, Freeman didn’t reach Super Two status as Soto did. Soto has also accomplished much more in his career so far, compared to Freeman at that time. In 471 games up to that point, Freddie had a career slash of .285/.358/.466 for a wRC+ of 127 and 7.1 fWAR. In 464 games, Soto’s career slash is .301/.432/.550, for a wRC+ of 156 and 17.7 fWAR.