“How to destroy your team in four easy installments!”
If there’s a plan for not following up on a World Series win, the Nationals have successfully created it over the past two seasons. With Juan Soto shipped to the Padres in time, Washington’s 2019 parade is turning into a funeral march of epic proportions.
Indeed, Washington’s descent from perennial contender to pretender began ahead of their World Series run with the departure of former top pick and MVP Bryce Harper. However, there was one sure reason to let Harper go: His name was Juan Soto.
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That “safe reason” turned out to be…not so sure.
Over the years, Washington has gone from big spender to penny pincher, leading to trades by Soto, Trea Turner and other star departures in recent years.
This is how it happened:
Departure from Bryce Harper
Harper was not in Washington long with the arrival of Juan Soto. The outfielder finished second in Rookie of the Year polls, hitting a .292 with 22 home runs in 116 games and looking like he could be a cornerstone.
After the season, Harper settled on a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. Harper was reportedly offered a 10-year, $300 million deal by the Nationals that included $100 million in deferred money to be paid out by the time he was 60. Not exactly the smartest move for the once and future NL MVP.
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The deferred money is something the Nationals have made a staple of big-money deals: They paid deferred money to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and offered Harper deferment. Oddly enough, they didn’t offer Soto any deferred money.
Departure from Anthony Rendon
After winning the World Series, Washington faced a difficult choice of their own: keep Stephen Strasburg or Anthony Rendon?
If you’re forced to keep one, it’s been a tough decision. Strasburg, though often injured, just wrapped up a masterful playoff run with a World Series MVP. Rendon was a cornerstone of Washington’s lineup and was in the midst of its heyday.
In the end, Washington renewed Strasburg (seven years, $175 million) and ran Rendon to Los Angeles on a seven-year, $245 million contract (likely to run). Washington reportedly offered a seven-year deal for $215 million.
It seemed like a win-win for both sides: Washington keeps his ace while Rendon gets his well-deserved and deserved payday.
However, both players are struggling with injury problems. Strasburg has pitched just 31 1/3 innings since 2019, while Anthony Rendon has only played 155 games in three seasons for the Angels and struggles with long IL appearances each year.
Trading by Max Scherzer, Trea Turner
Max Scherzer, a pending free agent, was linked to trade rumors for years before being finally transferred in 2021.
Grabbing Scherzer with Trea Turner was one of the latest in a series of somewhat nonsensical moves that were somewhat confusing at the time, and even more so afterwards: Turner still had another year and a half of team control, meaning he wasn’t a temp, and hanging on he with Scherzer probably should have gotten a higher return than what they got.
Washington has done well enough to regain two of LA’s top-five prospects in catcher Keibert Ruiz and pitcher Josiah Gray, both of whom were on Washington’s roster this year. They also brought back Gerardo Carrillo and Donovan Casey: Carrillo is an A-ball pitcher while Casey is a Quadruple A outfielder.
Still, it feels like the swapping of the two, even with hindsight, was more of a wave-the-white-flag move than something to really retool the roster.
No – the White Flag movement would not come until August 2, 2022.
Trading by Juan Soto
The last move is the most confusing, nonsensical and whatever other adjective you want to use to describe it.
Soto, a rising superstar, drew Ted Williams comps early in his career, and the numbers are consistent with that. Unfortunately, that didn’t mean much to Washington, who decided to move Soto with 2 1/2 years of team control remaining. That comes after Soto turned down a reported $440 million 15-year contract offer from Washington. Sticker shock aside, that works out to $29.3 million per season — essentially a team-friendly deal for Washington, especially over the long term.
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We won’t know how the deal works for a number of years considering two of the prospects who received it are in the A-Ball. MacKenzie Gore could be a very good starter, but “might” not play when you’re dealing with a superstar talent like Soto.