In the end, both sides must agree to say “yes”.

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

Have you ever been married? A baseball contract is like a marriage, except it always has an expiration date. No, the expiration is not necessarily like a divorce, but it could be if both sides do not see eye-to-eye in the end. The Washington Nationals proposed to Juan Soto and he said “no” and that “no” is ringing loudly in the public eye — mostly in negativity. There should not be any negative vibes. Just because Soto did not take the deal, it does not mean it is over. Sure, the Nats can propose other deals over and over and maybe Soto says “yes” at some point. For all intents and purposes, any deal will tie the Nats and Soto together for the rest of his baseball life. It could be the greatest contract in history, but you never know until it is over — just ask any fans who have seen their team crushed by one of those bad and expensive long-term deals.

The contract that Soto turned down — was the equivalent of the June 1, 2019 Powerball at $350 million. Funny timing that while the Powerball was soaring, the Nats were putting together their improbable World Series run. By the way, the odds of wining the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292,201,338 to be exact.

Yet, Soto turned down the third richest offer in baseball history only trailing Mike Trout (12 years, $426.5 million) and Mookie Betts (12 years, $365 million). Soto’s payout would actually be better than that $350 million Powerball which is subject to a deferred payout over 30 graduated payments over 29 years. If you choose the lump sum immediate payout in Powerball, you would actually need to win $573 million to end up with $350 million prior to taxes.

Speaking of deferrals, the Soto deal had none according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN who spoke directly to Soto and he wrote this, “no incluía dinero diferido.”

“Yes, they made me the offer a couple of months ago, before the lockout we have in baseball,” Soto said to Rojas. “… My agent, Scott Boras, has control over the situation. … Anyway, I still think of Washington as the place where I would like to spend the rest of my career, so we will see.”

We will see where this all goes, but at the moment Soto says he will go year to year until free agency. As Ryan Zimmerman was literally hours into his retirement celebration, the Soto news broke on ESPN. That was a shame as to the timing of the Soto news. On Soto’s instagram, he had just posted up a salute to Zimmerman. It is doubtful that Soto leaked the news, but most believe it came from Soto’s camp.

Also, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Soto turned down this first serious offer. There should be some more sharpening of pencils that will at least pay Soto more than Betts. The question is whether he can exceed what Trout received as many consider Trout to be the greatest ballplayer in the last 50 years.

But there are also no guarantees that Soto will reach the lofty numbers that are being thrown around in the calls for numbers around a half-billion dollars. There was a time when Bryce Harper was looking at $400 million plus and snapped back in an interview after his 2015 MVP season when money was discussed on 106.7 Fan Radio.

“But don’t sell me short,” Harper said in early 2016 to the interviewer. “That’s what you’re doing right now to me, so don’t do that.”

The words “But don’t sell me short” got a lot of play time on TV and radio. Harper’s follow-up was when he mentioned the rumored $400 million threshold for a baseball player:

“The $400 million or whatever everybody was talking about, money — you can’t put a limit on players,” Harper continued. “You can’t put a limit on what they do. If that’s on the field, off the field, everything they do. Everybody says the sky’s the limit. But we’ve been on the moon.”

Harper was right, yet he was wrong about his own self-worth. But Harper is a different player than Soto. With Harper, he puts butts in seats. He has that type of appeal, and that sometimes is worth a lot more than winning to some owners. In all, Harper still fell over 21% short of that $400 million. Of course the $330 million he ended up with was a ton of money, and there were no deferrals in that deal — but he had to sign for three more years over the Nats best offer to get that amount.

The advantage that the Nats have with Soto is the three seasons of team control, and paying him $16.2 million is this season’s estimate by MLB Trade Rumors. Just like with Harper, there is a gamble waiting out that initial team control. As Ian Desmond found out, sometimes the best offer you would see is the one you turned down. We can say with some certainty that Soto will get more than $350 million — however you never know what the future holds. Things can change as both Harper and Desmond found out.

Just a year ago, Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a $340 million deal with the Padres over 14 years. A year ago, Tatis looked like he was going to be the face of baseball, until he had a shoulder injury. A year ago, most felt that Tatis was more valuable than Soto because he played a premium position at shortstop. With that shoulder injury, his deal no longer looks great for the Padres. The Nats offered more than the Tatis deal in dollars and it required one fewer year. The difference a year makes.

“He’s the LeBron James of shortstops,” one official said in a text message to The Athletic when the Tatis deal was done. “Can’t find guys like this.”

Thing change quickly, and Tatis might turn into an outfielder. It goes to show how things can go awry. Look at Albert Pujols‘ career in Los Angeles. He never hit over an .800 OPS after his age 32 season, and for Miguel Cabrera, he only hit over .800 once after his age 33 season. Neither Pujols or Cabrera could stay healthy.  What sets Soto apart is that he has proven to be one of the greatest hitters in baseball history at his age. He has drawn good comparisons to Ted Williams, but Teddy Ballgame was already hitting over .400 at the same age. Here’s the thing, Soto has to continue hitting in top form, for the length of any new contract and stay healthy, to be worth it. That is the unknown.

Given all of this caution to the wind, you still have to try to tie Soto up for the long-term and just hope he performs at an elite level for the length of the contract. There is no crystal ball that shows us what Soto will do. The Max Scherzer deal worked brilliantly for the Nats, but they have been burned recently on the Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg deals. Truth be told, the Zimmerman deal after his age 28 season was pretty bad except for his 2017 season. In comparison, Zim will collect around $150 million in total by the time his personal services contract pays off. All in all, the team came out fine on that deal. Every deal is judged relative to the dollars and the production.

The good news is the Nats did not shy away from making that huge offer to Soto even though they are staring at the bad deals with Corbin and Strasburg. In the short-term, if a deal is struck with Soto, the team will probably have near 50% of their budget committed to Soto, Strasburg and Corbin, and that could make it difficult to build out a winning roster. Clearly, the Nats want winning baseball back, sooner than later. We wrote at the beginning of the off-season over five months ago that getting Soto to sign a long-term deal should be Priority #1. We still feel that way.

Over at MLB Trade Rumors, they came up with a plan to pay Soto a deal of $400 million in a new contract. Today, the clickbaiters will tell you it has to be $500 million. But how can you justify that number? In MLBTR, they wrote, “with Soto being the primary line item for about a decade after that. If the answer to that is yes, then baseball could have its first 400-million-dollar man.” MLBTR proposed a 14-year, $400 million contract. While Trout‘s contract was larger at $426.5 million, our proposal is $430 million over 15 years to Soto. This was the type of structure that DonH proposed three years ago for Harper. Some said Harper would never sign for more than 10 years. Well he did and his average annual pay is $25.39 million a year. If Soto waits three more years to reach free agency, his age will be on the same trajectory as Harper. How many prime years does a baseball player have?

Back in October, we proposed a $430 million deal for 15 years to exceed the total contract value of the Trout deal, plus we suggested that they add two mutual options to get it to a possible $500 million and essentially a half-billion dollars. That is the type of deal that could work for Soto, Boras and the Nats.

But none of this happens unless Soto says “yes” to the proposal.



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