Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo made his first public comments about the reports that Juan Soto rejected the Nats’ latest contract offer and the organization will now entertain trading the superstar before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline.
Rizzo, making his weekly appearance this morning on 106.7 The Fan’s “The Sports Junkies,” addressed everything from the team’s negotiations with Soto to his relationship with super agent Scott Boras to the organization’s ownership situation.
Last week, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that Soto rejected a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals and that the team will now entertain trading him before this year’s deadline. On the day of the report, Soto said he was upset that the details of the contract offer became public, and public opinion pointed the finger at the team.
“Leaks are just so difficult,” Rizzo said. “In this age of social media, who knows where some of these things come from? But all I can tell you, it unequivocally did not come from me for sure, 100 percent for sure, or from our front office. That much I know for sure. We had this information three weeks before it leaked out, so we had ample time to leak it out if we wanted to leak it out. … They never ever help a situation. It was disappointing to me, I was upset about it. And it's something that I'd just like to know who leaked it out just to have that information and make sure it didn't come from anybody in baseball operations.”
Rizzo doubled down that the Nationals were not the ones to leak the contract offer details, stating that doing so would not have benefitted the club in any aspect.
"All I have to tell you is that Mike Rizzo did not leak the information or his people in the front office," he said. "That's what I know 100 percent. It did not help us in anything we were trying to do. It didn't help us in keeping a good relationship with Juan. And it didn't help us in any kind of leverage at the trade deadline. So it really didn't help us. It really hurt us that the information got out. And it's not the right thing to do, because we've had 100 negotiations with the Boras Corporation over my career. And we never leaked out the information. And it was disappointing that this information got leaked out.”
Rizzo did confirm, however, that the reported contract details were accurate, although details of past offers were not.
“We've made, what we feel, were three above-market-value offers to Juan during this baseball season,” he said. “Two of them had come out before this one. Both of them were inaccurate in the terms and kind of the guts of the contract. This one was accurate. And that led us to believe it was somebody obviously with real knowledge of the situation, whereas the other ones were inaccurate. So that information could be leaked out there by people who really don't know or who are guessing or think they have the information.”
With it known that Soto was uncomfortable about the information being made public, Rizzo was asked of the negotiations between club and player.
“Here's how the situation goes: This was the ultimate respectful interaction with Juan,” Rizzo said. “We've made him several offers. We made sure that he knows that we want him here for the rest of his career. This is business, it's not personal. This is business. He has the right to go to free agency, to turn down deals and that type of thing. I respect that as a player that has earned that right. But my relationship with the players is, it is nothing if it's not, you know, we're man-to-man and we discuss things face-to-face.
“And when we offered Juan this contract, with his agent's knowledge, we told him when the deal was turned down, we said, 'We're gonna have to explore all our options.' And that's all we've ever said. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't explore all the options that now present us. We've got a pretty good option. We've got a talented Juan Soto for two and a half more seasons. That's Option A, that's a good one. But we also have to think about options B and C. My job is to make this organization a consummate winner again, like we did from 2012 to 2019, be a consistent winner. And I have to figure out ways as the caretaker of this franchise to make us a championship organization for a long, long time to come.”
Many have wondered if the Nationals would try to attach Patrick Corbin to a Soto deal in order to get out of the left-hander’s contract. Corbin is due about $60 million over the next two seasons and has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball since his terrific 2019 campaign.
“We've never contacted a team and talked about Juan Soto and attaching any contract to any player,” Rizzo said. “We're not going to dilute a return for any player by adding a bad contract. That's not where we're at in our organization at this time. We want to get the most for each and every trade that we do. So we certainly are not going to tack on anybody's contract to any anybody's deal, including Juan Soto's or Josh Bell's or anybody's.”
That brings us to the ownership conundrum. With the Lerner family expected to sell the team in the coming months, so many questions surround the organization over the coming months, particularly relating to Soto.
Why would Soto commit to this team for the next 15 years without knowing who the next owner is going to be? Should the departing owners be the ones to make the decision of whether or not to trade him? Would the next owner be able to offer him a contract to keep him in Washington?
Rizzo said he has had conversations with both Soto and Boras about the ownership situation, but he refused to reveal details.
“I've had those discussions with Scott and with Juan personally, and I don't want to ... those are private conversations that I'm going to keep between us," the GM said. “But I'm sure all those reasons factor into the decision that he made. Again, I do not take this as an affront to the Washington Nationals. I don't take this personally. This is a young, exciting, talented player that has every right to explore the market as he sees fit. We've made a historical offer to him and he turned it down.
“Again, am I upset with Juan Soto for doing that? No, because I've known the kid since he was 15 years old. I know him as good as anybody in the world. As good as his agency, as good as his teammates. I've been with him a long time. And he's one of the most wonderful players that I've ever been around. And I respect the choices that he made. And again, this isn't personal against Mike Rizzo or the Washington Nationals. This is business.”
Other questions have been raised if the Nationals’ offer to Soto was in fact a fair one. The 15 years and $440 million would be the longest and largest in total dollars in baseball history. But the $29.3 million average annual value would only currently rank 20th in the sport.
Some have made the comparison to Max Scherzer’s three-year, $130 million deal that he signed with the Mets this offseason. That contract has an average annual value of $43.3 million, although it’s for a much shorter time with the third year being a player option.
Rizzo doesn’t see much of a comparison.
“We're talking about a historic contract with Juan and it's hard to compare a 15-year deal, which 13 of those years are new money because we have him for two arbitration years, with a three-year contract for a (38-year-old) pitcher,” said Rizzo. “It's apples and oranges to me. We certainly would chip Juan Soto a Max Scherzer-type of deal after his arbitration years are up, but that wouldn't work either. But it's hard to compare a three-year deal for a (38-year-old) Hall of Fame pitcher, who I drafted, signed and love also, to a 13-new-year deal with 15 years total. It's just, that's not the comp. The comps are the Bryce Harpers and the Mike Trouts and the Mookie Betts and the Fernando Tatíses of the world. Same type of ages, same type of years on these contracts. And this contract blows all those away.”
To compare those contracts: Harper has a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies for an AAV of $25.4 million, Trout has a 12-year, $426.5 million deal with the Angels for an AAV of $35.5 million, Betts has a 12-year, $365 million deal with the Dodgers for an AAV of $30.4 million and Tatís Jr. has a 14-year, $340 million deal with the Padres for an AAV of $24.3 million.
In terms of what the Nationals are looking for in a possible return for Soto, Rizzo wasn’t specific, but he repeated it would be done to get a haul that would be in the best interest of the organization.
“We're in conversations with Juan Soto with several teams that I think have real interest in him,” Rizzo said. “Also with several other players that have had interest with other teams. I'm not going to handicap if we're going to trade him or not. I will say this: We're gonna have to get the deal that we want that makes the most sense that gets us an opportunity to become a championship organization faster than not trading him. So that's it in a nutshell.”
If that was the final offer the Nationals are going to make to Soto and they do end up trading him by Tuesday’s deadline, the slugger would be the latest addition to a growing list of homegrown and fan favorite talent to leave town, joining Scherzer, Harper, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner.
What would Rizzo tell fans who may be checking out from supporting the team?
“That tells me that we've got a lot of good players coming through Washington, D.C,” Rizzo said. “We've got division titles. We've got world championship trophies. We've got Silver Sluggers, MVPs, Cy Young Award winners. We're running a lot of talent through Washington, D.C. And I grew up a Cubs fan, and they didn't win a World Series for 109 years in my lifetime as a Chicagoan. When I lived there, they never won it. If the fans like the product on the field, if it's a winning product, if they play the way the fans want them to play, if the team really embraces the name on the front of the jersey and is a good role model and a good team for the fans of Washington, D.C. to get behind, they're going to love this team.
“We've had some really good players through here. Some have stayed, some have gone. And we continue to put a good, championship-quality product on the field. We're down right now. We're easy to kick, because we're in last place. But we'll be back, we're gonna be back soon.”