When one of the game’s top players is known to be on trade block, it’s news. When he’s arguably the game’s best hitter, just 23 years old, and playing under his rookie contract for two-and-a-half more years– well, it’s understandable that everyone is speculating on and/or hoping where he’ll go.
There’s a team I haven’t seen mentioned in any of those articles, broadcasts, or even seen anyone theorize on Twitter that could be a perfect fit for Juan Soto, though. I’ll admit, I’m surprised no one else has thought of it, but there’s a team that would make perfect sense to trade for a ready-made superstar that has years of his prime left that should really consider just such a player given where they are in their competitive cycle, what they could do to build a championship team around him, and even with their business objectives as a franchise.
That team is the Washington Nationals. Hear me out.
Yes, the Nationals at the All-Atar break were a league-worst 31-63 and are not going to contend for a playoff spot this year. But all rebuilds have to start somewhere, and what are the odds the Nationals would have the opportunity to acquire a generational talent for two-plus years any other way? The Astros won 70 games in 2014, and three years later were World Series champions. They didn’t trade Altuve in 2014 because they weren’t competitive for that single year, and I doubt they regret that decision. If the point is not to acquire talent in baseball (and if you want to take it a step further from a pure business perspective, I’ll even grant you young, cost-controlled talent), then what exactly is it?
With reports of the Nationals’ franchise owners considering shopping the team, the argument could be made that having a big contract on the books could potentially hamper a sale slightly. A contract like Soto’s though, is good for two more years. That’s two additional years to negotiate a sale while Juan Soto is still playing under his initial professional contract without committing an extra dime (outside of what admittedly will be a large but still underpaid arbitration raise) or year to a once-in-a-lifetime player. There is no urgency for a team in the Nationals’ position. It’s a false dichotomy to suggest a team can only “extend to a team-friendly deal” or “sell” a player’s services, so a team like the Nationals could certainly acquire a player like Soto and hold while they re-tool around him. Two years should be a lifetime in baseball, in a sport without a salary cap.
The point is, every team should be inquiring about Juan Soto. These types of deals hardly ever happen, because franchises should not be willing to punt multiple years with a talent like Soto for budgetary reasons for some nebulous and hazy future in which they’ll compete 3, 4, or 5 years from now. The Nationals should pounce on this opportunity while they can to compete for a talent that typically is choosing between the major media market teams in free agency when they might not have the chance later on! Further, it’s far from a guarantee that even the top prospects the Nationals would part with to acquire a player like Soto would ever produce even in their whole careers the on-field production they might gain from two and a half years with him in their outfield.
And about that cost, the Nationals don’t have one of the better-rated farm systems in baseball, but acquired most of their top current prospects during last year’s trade deadline. Given that they’ve sold off players for prospects, it could be a good time to start acquiring major franchise players like Soto — otherwise the Nats may find themselves in a “forever rebuilding” phase. It would be tough to give up some of those prospects in a trade for Juan Soto, since those are the same players that would slot in around Soto on a competitive Nationals team.
Hopefully there would be some way the Nationals could find to retain their prospects and acquire Soto on the roster, but I would leave that to the brain trust in Washington to figure out exactly how one would go about accomplishing that.
It’s obviously not the most popular idea, but I really think the Nationals could make sense as a potential landing spot in a trade for Juan Soto. If not a team like the Nationals — whose on-field goal should align in this instance with their business goals of acquiring high-level talent at a controlled cost — then what are we even doing here?
Featured image by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerdesigns_ on Twitter)