LOS ANGELES – The Washington Nationals are telling teams they are now willing to trade All-Star outfielder Juan Soto after he rejected a record 15-year, $440 million contract extension, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
“It has to be the right deal or we keep him,’’ the person said.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding contract talks.
The Nationals, who are for sale, certainly would have to be overwhelmed to move him, and there’s no hurry considering they have 2 ½ years of control.
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It also could be a public ploy by the Nats ownership to reflect how valuable Soto is to the franchise, increasing the sales price to prospective owners.
Persons close to Soto said the offer was heavily backloaded the last six years reducing the overall value under $400 million, which the Nationals vehemently denied.
It was an offer, one person said, that Soto never seriously considered accepting, and that the Nats knew he’d reject it when it was made.
While the deal would be the largest in baseball history, it would make Soto, 23, only the 20th-highest paid player on an annual average salary of $29.33 million. Max Scherzer of the New York Mets is the highest-paid player this year with a $43.3 million salary in the first year of his three-year deal.
The Nats believe the Scherzer AAV is irrelevant considering it’s only a three-year deal. They point out that it would still pay Soto $400 million over the last 13 years when he would become eligible for free agency, which is $70 million more than Bryce Harper received from the Phillies three years ago on his 13-year, $330 million contract. Harper was a six-time All-Star, former MVP and Rookie of the Year winner, when he signed his deal. Former MVP Mookie Betts signed a 12-year, $360 million extension two years ago with the Dodgers that included deferred payments.
Soto, 23, who earns $17.1 million this year, is expected to seek a contract that would pay him at least $40 million a year. Certainly, he could become the first $500 million player if he hits free agency in two years.
Who knows, perhaps Soto wants to wait and see what happens to the Nationals, too? They are in a massive rebuild, and have the worst record (32-60) in the major leagues.
Soto is in no hurry to make a decision.
But for the first time, the Nats suddenly are ready to make that decision for him.
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