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The Juan Soto contract extension dance has begun between Scott Boras and the Nationals

Juan Soto, the Nationals' 23-year-old star, is three years from possibly hitting the open market as a free agent. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
5 min

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The remarks were separated by four hours and a long toss or three at the Omni La Costa Resort on Wednesday. Scott Boras, baseball’s most influential agent, made his while surrounded by reporters and a fake hedge. Mike Rizzo, general manager of the Washington Nationals, made his in a quiet corner of an outdoor patio, away from other executives and the media horde.

Both discussed Juan Soto and his future in D.C. If Soto doesn’t sign an extension, he will hit free agency after the 2024 season. The clock is ticking.

“Juan Soto wants to win,” Boras said when asked whether there was an offer the Nationals could make — right now — that would get the 23-year-old star to sign a long-term extension. “So the first thing that’s going to have to happen is that he knows that he’s working with an ownership that’s going to annually try to compete and win. And then I think once he knows that, then he’ll be ready to sit down and talk whenever they choose to talk.”

Rizzo’s response?

“We’ve made it known that we want Juan to be a long-term National,” Rizzo told The Washington Post at MLB’s general managers’ meetings. “It’s no secret. We’ve talked to the player himself; we talked to Scott before. … As of this point, he and I haven’t sat down and discussed it in depth. But we’ve spoken in generalities and that type of thing, and he knows our thought process on it. It will be something we want to talk to him about — being here for a long, long time.”

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And how about Boras’s suggestion that Soto has to see the organization contending again, especially after it dealt eight veterans at the trade deadline in July?

“For 10 years, we’ve contended for championships. We won one of them. We won four divisions and a wild card,” Rizzo answered. “We’ve competed for titles and won more games than just about everybody in this league except for [three] teams.”

The teams in front of the Nationals in that statistic: the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals. But Boras’s point has steam because of how the Nationals finished 2021. Their record, 65-97, was the fifth worst among the 30 teams. At the deadline, they shipped out Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and six others to net 12 prospects.

In early August, Soto was visibly unhappy with the sharp change in direction. This month, he will finish in the top three of voting for the National League’s MVP award despite playing for a last-place team. One way for the Nationals to show Soto they are serious about competing would be to offer him a very large deal, perhaps one that would set all kinds of records.

“It’s something that we think about a lot,” Rizzo said. “At the right time, we’ll certainly get more serious about it and address it. The new [collective bargaining agreement] is going to have something to do with timing, just to see what the rules are. But we’re not in the mind-set where we got him under control for three more years and have three years to wait. That’s not our view.”

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Spending of any scale has to be approved by Mark Lerner, the team’s managing principal owner, and other members of his family and inner circle. A realistic expectation is that Soto and Boras will angle for a deal of double-digit years with one of the highest average annual values in history, if not the highest. In March 2019, Mike Trout signed a 12-year, $426.5 million contract. That averages to an annual salary of about $35.5 million.

Yet Boras indicated Washington will have to prove its intent to win to its cornerstone before even having legitimate discussions. It felt like a challenge to Rizzo and ownership. Meanwhile, Soto is entering his second winter of arbitration eligibility. He will command a significant raise on the $8.5 million he made this past season, though that could be affected by the new CBA.

Regardless of the Nationals’ best intentions, Boras is known for shepherding most of his clients to free agency, viewing it as an opportunity to drum up a bidding war. Think Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon, to name two. Yet he contended Wednesday that is not a foregone conclusion for Soto.

“I do have a record,” Boras said. “You name me my guys we’ve taken to free agency, and I’ll name you a guy that we haven’t. What we do is we listen to players and we follow what players tell us to do because we work for them. Other than that, I just know that Juan has mentioned to me that he wants to make sure he’s working for a club that’s going to compete annually.”

Boras’s comments came after he criticized the low number of truly competitive teams in the majors. His clients are better off when more clubs are trying to win, the Nationals included. So it is hard to separate his thoughts on Soto from his vision for MLB at large.

But perhaps Boras underscored the need for Rizzo and the Lerner family to outline their goals and timeline for Soto, step by step. Adding in free agency or via the trade market is one way to entice him to stick in Washington for the long haul. Having a concerted, well-reasoned process is another.

“I would do that with open arms,” Rizzo said. “Give him our plan … I’d do that with any representative or player who we’d want to have long term. I have no issues there.”