Washington Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto turned 23 just two months ago, which means he will play the whole 2022 season at that age. But Soto is not your average 23-year-old major leaguer, no. Here is a glimpse of what he has accomplished:
- One All-Star game (2021)
- World Series champion (2019)
- 2× All-MLB First Team (2020, 2021)
- All-MLB Second Team (2019)
- 2× Silver Slugger Award (2020, 2021)
- NL batting champion (2020)
Some people think Soto should have won the National League MVP award in 2020 and 2021. During the pandemic year, a positive COVID-19 test and other injuries limited him to 47 of 60 games, which likely cost him the award (he had a 201 wRC!), while he had as good of a case as Bryce Harper this past season.
In 2021, Soto hit .313/.465/.534 with 29 home runs, 111 runs, 95 RBI, nine steals, and a 163 wRC+. His defense in the outfield was good, not great, and he finished with 6.6 fWAR. The most impressive part of his game, however, occurs at the batter’s box when there is no contact.
Soto’s batting eye and plate discipline are top-notch, the best in the league. He took walks in 22.2 percent of his plate appearances and only struck out in 14.2 percent of them, both incredibly impressive marks.
So how much is Soto worth? What kind of contract will he sign? He remains a prime candidate for an extension, as he is starting to become expensive for the Nationals: as a Super Two player, he earned $8.5 million in 2021 and is projected to get between $15.5 million and $16.2 million in 2022. God knows what he would command in 2023 and 2024, his final seasons of arbitration if he isn’t extended by then.
The logic explains that the Nationals chose one between Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon (they picked the former) and traded Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and others in order to free up some cash for a Soto extension.
Let’s see some of the largest deals signed recently (extensions and free agent signings):
- Mike Trout, Angels: 12 years, $426.5 million (signed in 2019)
- Mookie Betts, Dodgers: 12 years, $365 million (signed in 2020)
- Francisco Lindor, Mets: 10 years, $341 million (agreed to in 2021)
- Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres: 14 years, $340 million (agreed to in 2021)
- Bryce Harper, Phillies: 13 years, $330 million (signed in 2019)
- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: 13 years, $325 million (signed in 2014)
- Corey Seager, Rangers: 10 years, $325 million (signed in 2022)
- Gerrit Cole, Yankees: 9 years, $324 million (signed in 2020)
Only Tatis was younger than Soto is right now when he signed his contract extension, but the Padres had some leverage because he had five remaining years of team control remaining when he put pen to paper to the deal, thus getting some “discount” years early.
Soto already has three seasons remaining in his service time clock (barring potential changes after the new CBA is negotiated), and he will earn a substantial raise in 2022. He has performed at a high level for four years, compared to Tatis’ two at the time of signing.
From Cole up to Lindor, common sense indicates that his deal will surpass everyone on that list because he is young, proven, elite, and should have his prime years still ahead of him.
Betts? He was 27 when he committed his future to the Dodgers for 12 more years. And if we are being honest, he was only a superior hitter than Soto in 2018, when he had a 185 wRC+. He is more of a 130 wRC+ guy most of the time, a bar Soto has comfortably cleared in every year of his career, but the Dodgers’ outfielder remains a better defender and runner.
Now, is Soto in position to sign the largest contract in baseball history, surpassing Trout’s? It’s not a given, but he could. Like Betts, he was 27 when he signed his latest deal, but he was more accomplished than Soto: he had seven All-Star games, two MVPs (he won another one later that year and has three now), and six Silver Slugger awards. It also needs to be said that Soto still hasn’t hit Trout’s peak level (10.0 fWAR, ~180 wRC+), nor has he had the kind of defensive and baserunning impact he once had.
But Trout was in his prime when he signed. Theoretically, Soto still hasn’t approached his prime. And if this isn’t his prime, well, the future is bright for him. Long story short, it’s not hard to see Soto getting a larger deal than the Angels’ star.
So how much is Juan Soto worth? A lot, perhaps close to $40 million per season. Could we eventually see him sign, say, a 12-year, $450 million extension? Only time will tell.
Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13