The Nationals’ recent deal to trade star outfielder Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres was unusually complicated, but the team’s sale process didn’t directly determine the decision, people familiar with the matter said. Three people with direct knowledge of Soto’s deliberations said the Lerners did not seek input on Soto from any potential bidders. All, speaking on condition of anonymity, spoke candidly about the ongoing process.
Allen & Co., the firm that Lerners hired to handle the deal, declined to comment for this story, but two people with direct knowledge of the situation said the firm’s only advice is simple: If you’re going to do it, do what you want things to do. Continue to own the team and make the best decisions for the health of the team. If Soto signs a long-term deal to stay in Washington, he could be a selling point, a cornerstone. If the Nationals trade him in the process and complement their minor league system, potential bidders could inherit financial flexibility and future innocence.
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However, the potential sale does have some impact on what the Lerners think they can offer Soto and his agent Scott Boras. The Nationals’ proposed $440 million 15-year deal, with no extension payments, is more than the team has offered to its players — and more than any baseball team has ever guaranteed to anyone, for that matter. But Boras has since said he expects Soto to get a deal that matches or exceeds the $43.3 million average annual value the New York Mets gave Max Scherzer last year.
Anyone who buys the Nationals will inherit roughly $500 million in debt, including $200 million owed to Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and a long-term deal with Soto on Boras terms would mean another $500 million or more. That’s a daunting inheritance fee, considering the team appears to be selling for less than the $2.4 billion Steve Cohen paid for the Mets in 2020.
So, when Soto disagreed with Lerner thinking they could offer the best deal, they told Rizzo to see what they could get out of a trade, according to general manager Mike Rizzo and confirmed by others in the background. what. Once Rizzo received what he thought was a good offer, the owner told him to make a deal.
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The sale of the team “is not a consideration. It’s above my salary grade,” Rizzo said in a news conference on Aug. 2, the day the Soto deal was struck. “I’m here to make this team the best it can be. It’s a prudent move. It’s a prudent baseball move.”
Rizzo also said something that day, corroborated by multiple people familiar with the Lerner family’s thinking: Once the 23-year-old star turned down a contract offer from the Nationals, there was “no decree” to trade; if no team Fulfill their demands on Soto and they won’t trade him.
Many in the Nationals front office believe the team will never get more value for Soto than it does now, since any team buying him would have him sign him to a three-playoff contract. Those around managing principal owner Mark Lerner believe that Washington’s minor league system, despite its offseason restructuring, won’t start churning out major league starters without an infusion of elite talent. Without this deal, the Nationals probably wouldn’t play for three or four years. With it, those close to Lerner argue with some optimism that they might be able to speed up the process and compete in a range of two or three. Washington didn’t win with Soto, and with his salary ballooning in arbitration, it won’t get any easier to build around him.
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While the contracts of Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin remain in place for the next few seasons, the Nationals don’t have any other major financial commitments from next season — not even anyone willing to make significant strides in arbitration. They have only $35 million committed to Strasbourg by 2025. If a young core emerges over the next few seasons, the person who owns the team will have the financial flexibility to support the team through free agency.
But even if the Nationals wanted to cater to the whim of a potential buyer, they didn’t know enough in the sales process to understand what such a buyer might want. If any of these stakeholders decide to bid on the Nationals, they will base their bids on how they feel about the franchise’s value, not on Lerner’s specific asking price. As such, it remains unclear whether any of them will offer an acceptable bid and become a front-runner, and how much the Lerners actually think is enough.
Those around the team expect the process to reach a resolution early next season. Lerners should find out within a month or two how others are evaluating their franchises, as potential bidders decide whether and how much to bid. Regardless, these bidders don’t have to worry about Soto, whatever their preference for his future. This decision is not theirs yet.