Perspective: Juan Soto to the Nats isn't as Crazy as you Think
Fresh off turning down a 14-year, $440 million deal it seemed like the two sides would never be able to come back together, but the last season and a half has changed that outlook.
When the Washington Nationals traded Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres, it signaled the end of an era in Washington baseball. Fresh off turning down a 14-year, $440 million deal it seemed like the two sides would never be able to come back together, but the last season and a half has changed that outlook.
If you compare the rosters of the Padres and the Nationals, on paper, it seems like one of the most lopsided comparisons. The Padres, with guys like Soto, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, and Fernando Tatis Jr., and the Nationals, whose big stars are Lane Thomas and CJ Abrams. But looking at the 2023 season, both teams missed the playoffs.
The Padres have yet to extend Soto, whose current contract is slated to expire at the end of this upcoming season, and with the state of the locker room in San Diego, it seems less and less likely that a Soto extension is on the table.
The major difference and the reason why a Soto return to D.C. might be possible is the culture of the dugout. The Padres have famously had one of the most toxic locker rooms in all of Major League Baseball over the past couple of seasons. It has been one of the primary reasons why they have so vastly underperformed expectations over the last few years.
Aside from the locker room issues, the Padres must choose who to let walk and all signs point to Soto leaving. The Padres have Machado, Tatis, Bogaerts, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove all on the books with $100 million or more contracts. There just is not much room on that payroll for what would most likely be at least a $400 million contract for Soto.
The Nationals will not be the only suiters for the three-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger. Soto has often been linked to big spenders like the Yankees.
Soto has been rumored to want to be a Yankee since 2021, when trade rumors around him started to swirl. The Yankees are in a very similar spot to where they were back then as well, they are a team that are fringe World Series contenders. Adding Soto would push them over the edge. Still, with recent comments from Yankees GM Brian Cashman bashing Giancarlo Stanton for being injury-prone, it doesn’t seem like the type of locker room Soto would like to go to after San Diego.
Another strong candidate for Soto is the other New York team the Mets. Ever since Steve Cohen took over, he has been giving out massive contracts left and right to every huge free agent on the market with mixed results. If all Soto is after is a payday, the Mets are absolutely on his radar, but again the Mets have had ups and downs in the dugout, even in successful seasons. The Mets are not a team to turn to for stability right now.
The biggest factor in a Soto to-Washington scenario is the strength and stability of that dugout with Davey Martinez. Martinez’s special skill as a manager is keeping a culture and a team together. Something that made the 2023 Nationals almost ten games better than expected.
Soto has said in the past how much he enjoyed his time in the nation’s capital and the staff the same as it was when he left it. Returning to a city, team, and staff that are familiar and that love Soto is a huge plus for a guy whose next contract will be a long-term deal.
Returning to Washington doesn’t mean there is no way to continue competing either. The Nationals should have their top prospect James Woods and second overall pick Dylan Crews up in the majors by the 2024 season.
If Woods and Crews are what they are expected to be, then this Nationals team is closer to contention than people realize; adding Soto in the offseason would immediately push them back to contending tiers.
Soto’s main goal won’t be to ring chase either; he already has a ring from 2019, so going to a team like the Nationals with a bright long-term future but not immediate contention isn’t something that will matter too much to a guy like Soto.
Wherever Soto goes, he is going to get paid a lot of money, probably more than the original $440 million that he turned down before the trade to the Padres, but after his experience in a toxic locker room, going back to familiar and secure is something that seems like is worth giving up going to an already stacked team.
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