As Major League Baseball approached the 2022 All-Star game, the sport was abuzz with the news that Juan Soto turned down a contract extension worth $440 million over 15 years. The 23-year-old All-Star right fielder of the Washington Nationals turned down the contract just two weeks before this year’s trade deadline, likely putting himself on the trading block as he left many fans bewildered by his decision. However, I am here to tell you that not only is Soto playing the long game, but he is playing things smarter than most players in his position would or have in the past.
Juan Soto cannot become a free agent until after the 2024 season, meaning that Washington or the team the Nationals trade him to will have him under team control for two seasons beyond 2022. Very often, young stars in Soto’s position are locked up under a long-term contract with the team looking to sign them at today’s market value and not the presumed higher market value to come in future off-seasons. The trade-off for the star player is that they have a few arbitration years eliminated from their lives while ensuring they will be paid even if they are injured sometime in the future.
According to many reports, Juan Soto was able to say no to a $440 million deal for at least three reasons:
- Over 15 seasons, the deal would only have an average value of $29 million a year; a number, by today’s baseball standards is below the market value of players had his level. In effect, while offering him the largest salary in MLB history, Washington lowballed their best player by spreading out the value of the deal over so many years.
- The deal was backloaded, meaning that much of the money it would pay out came towards the end, not the beginning the deal. This, according to reports, was akin to deferring Soto’s salary, something that anyone under a contract generally doesn’t like very much.
- The Washington Nationals are believed by many to be up for sale, which makes it risky for any player to sign a long-term contract since they don’t know who their next boss will be or how much he/she will be committed to winning over making a profit with the team.
The last reason echoes what happened to Giancarlo Stanton, who signed his current mega deal with the Miami Marlins just to have the team sold and new ownership unwilling to pay out the contract, forcing a trade to the New York Yankees, with the OF/DH has been often injured and overall, has failed to reach the World Series.
Just like in the NFL, MLB contract values go up year over year for the league’s best players as agents jockey for future stars to sign with them over their rivals. So, just as this deal would have been bad for Juan Soto to sign, it likewise would have been a bad move for his agent to be a part of since it devalues what Soto can do for a team on and off the field. Throw all this into a pot and you understand very quickly why Juan Soto didn’t agree to sign this contract, and rightfully so.
As for being on the trading block, most major blockbuster deals don’t take place midseason since there are fewer teams looking to make changes this time of year. Perhaps this year there are more teams than normal who might be willing to push all their chips to the center of the table since some franchises have thrown themselves into the middle of a playoff race with long winning streaks. That number is small when compared to the dozens of teams might say, “yeah, we can build around Juan Soto in 2023,” and be willing to give up their top prospects for a proven player. That means that unless and until Washington received a “can’t refuse” offer, Juan Soto will be playing right field for the Nationals, which means, in my opinion, for at least the rest of the 2022 season.
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