The Washington Nationals may reportedly be "compelled" to move superstar outfielder Juan Soto ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline given the lack of progress toward a contract extension.
ESPN's Buster Olney reported Wednesday the Nats would likely set a "really high price" since Soto can't become a free agent until after the 2024 season, but rival executives believe the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays would still be "motivated" suitors.
"If they're not going to sign him [to a long-term deal], then they'll need to trade him," an MLB source told Olney. "The question is: When?"
In February, Soto confirmed to ESPN's Enrique Rojas he turned down a 13-year, $350 million extension offer from the Nationals with an eye toward eventually hitting the open market.
"Yes, they made me the offer a couple of months ago, before the lockout we have in baseball," he said. "But right now, me and my agents think the best option is to go year after year and wait for free agency. My agent, Scott Boras, is in control of that situation."
While it's possible Soto's stance could change, Boras tends to encourage his high-profile clients to head for the free-agent market to maximize their contract value, and Washington will lose leverage in trade talks every day that endgame moves closer.
In turn, moving him this season so the acquiring team can get at least 2.5 years of value from the two-time Silver Slugger Award winner is probably the Nats' best bet.
Soto is one of MLB's best pure hitters. He's compiled a .297/.428/.544 slash line, 106 home runs and 35 stolen bases in 502 games across four-plus seasons. His .972 OPS would rank second among active players behind only the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout (1.005) if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
The 23-year-old Dominican Republic native is the type of acquisition who could shift the league's balance of power if he lands with a readymade contender such as the Padres or Blue Jays.
Meanwhile, the Nationals are already falling out of playoff contention, having posted the league's second-worst record (12-26), and will likely require a multiyear rebuild before they're ready to compete with the reigning World Series champion Atlanta Braves or big-spending New York Mets in the NL East.
Trading Soto would land a couple of key pieces to help accelerate that process.
Olney reported a Padres offer could center around shortstop C.J. Abrams, who's ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect by MLB.com, and starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore, who's enjoying a strong start to his rookie season with a 2.17 ERA through six games (five starts).
Washington could also make other veterans such as Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz available ahead of the deadline, per Olney.
It ensures the Nationals will be a heavy focus of the rumor mill over the next few months.