Juan Soto
Nick Wass/AP

Juan Soto is a top star in the MLB, and he’s young enough and good enough to be the bridge to the next championship-caliber core as a franchise centerpiece. The Washington Nationals need to sign Soto to a long-term contract as soon as possible to prevent him from walking like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon. Soto, who’s currently 22, won’t see his current contract expire until the end of the 2024 season.

Fernando Tatís Jr. has a 14-year, $340 million extension, Ronald Acuña Jr. is already locked into a team-friendly extension with the Braves, the spotlight now turns squarely on Soto as the next under-25 candidate for a mega-extension.

Soto, who finished fifth in NL MVP voting last season and enters 2021 as the betting favorite to win the award, is also the betting favorite at +800 to lead all the majors in RBI, per PointsBet Sportsbook, and he’s tied with the third-best odds to lead the league in both home runs (+1200) and runs scored (+1000), respectively.

Soto has played for the Nationals during the last three seasons and already has a World Series title, Silver Slugger and batting title on his resume. He slashed .351/.490/.695 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI in 47 games during the shortened 2020 season.

The Nats have the wherewithal to get a deal done, general manager Mike Rizzo won’t hesitate to tell you how much he loves Juan Soto the person and my hunch is that Soto would be very willing to work something out here, long-term. 

Soto is special. Through his age-21 season, he’s posted an OPS+ of 151, which ranks 11th highest in baseball history among players of the same age (minimum 500 plate appearances). He’s ahead of inner-circle Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson, and Mel Ott. He also outpaces some of his contemporaries in that category, like Acuña Jr., Cody Bellinger, Giancarlo Stanton, and Carlos Correa—not bad for a guy who made just 35 minor league plate appearances above Class A.

Soto has the fifth-best on-base percentage (.415) under the same criteria—better than Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Stan Musial, and Rickey Henderson. His OPS (.972) ranks sixth all-time—one spot ahead of Tatis Jr. and two ahead of Trout.

His reputation is well established even at a young age. He became the second player 21 or younger ever to lead the majors in intentional walks last season (12), and the first since Eddie Mathews in 1953. Soto’s 12 free passes are tied for the fourth-most ever given to a player 21 or younger, and he was on pace to break Griffey’s record of 21 set in 1991 if he hadn’t played in a pandemic-shortened 60-game season.

A look at player similarity scores from Baseball-Reference drives the larger point home: Juan Soto is on track to be one of the greatest hitters of his generation. His most similar player is Frank Robinson, the only player to win an MVP award in both leagues. Six of Soto’s 10 most similar players are Hall of Famers. Among the other four are Trout and Acuña Jr.

Trout, Acuña Jr., and Tatis Jr. all share something in common: They signed nine-figure extensions with their original franchises that kept them under team control for at least a decade. It’s possible that Soto, who is represented by Scott Boras, is unlikely to go that route unless Washington comes with a record-breaking offer.

Soto’s long-term value likely lies somewhere between that of Trout and Mookie Betts. The number $400 million doesn’t get tossed around too often, but it will certainly be in the conversation for Soto. A 12-year, $400 million deal would give him an average annual value of $33.3 million, a little higher than the midpoint between Trout and Betts.

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