Perspective | Why do the Nats let stars depart? Juan Soto’s exit would revive the query.


On the second-to-last day of the 2018 season, Trea Turner hit second for the Washington Nationals in Colorado and rapped three hits, together with a homer. Bryce Harper was within the three gap, and he singled twice and scored a pair of runs. Anthony Rendon was the cleanup man, and his lone hit was a triple. Juan Soto was the 19-year-old left fielder, hitting fifth, belting a double and a homer and driving in 4 runs.

Oh, and on the hill was Stephen Strasburg, ending a irritating, injury-interrupted season with six innings of two-run ball — some momentum for the winter. That’s fairly a core to construct a crew round.

There are the explanation why, when the Nationals took the sector Monday night time at Dodger Stadium, Turner was the beginning shortstop for opposing Los Angeles; why Harper won the second of his two MVP awards with the Philadelphia Phillies; why Rendon is driving out the season on the injured listing of the Los Angeles Angels; and why Soto’s unsure future is the only storyline that matters for the shell-of-their-former-selves Nationals.

‘This is all just nuts’: As Juan Soto uncertainty lingers, the show must go on

A commerce of Soto by subsequent Tuesday’s deadline stays a definite chance. As jarring as it could be, there are undeniable, justifiable reasons for the Nationals to move him. The specifics of why — failure to reach agreement on a long-term contract extension, an try to maximise the return of prospects who may assist rebuild the franchise — have been damaged down and analyzed even earlier than we all know whether or not a deal could be pulled off.

However Soto’s potential departure — be it over the following week, within the offseason or by way of free company in 2½ years — offers oxygen to an inconvenient narrative: The Nationals can not maintain on to their very own gamers.

“It’s the enterprise that’s the a part of baseball that’s — properly, not unavoidable, as a result of perhaps you possibly can keep away from it just a little bit,” Turner stated final week on the All-Star Recreation, the place he began for the Nationwide League with “Dodgers” emblazoned throughout his chest. “However it occurs.”

It has occurred, and is going on, to the Nationals. Every of those conditions is exclusive and has its personal dynamics, which we’ll get to. However the wide-angle view gives not-so-flattering issues: The Nationals have to be low-cost. The Nationals lowball their very own. What’s unsuitable with Washington?

Overlook the accuracy of every and any of these conclusions, typically produced from afar. It’s a indisputable fact that the Nationals developed and raised these gamers from youngsters to stars — and didn’t lock up any of them.

Properly, they did lock up one. And that contract is strangling the franchise.

A part of me thinks there’s no level in re-litigating every of the opposite circumstances — besides that the totality of them defines the place the franchise as soon as was and the place it’s now. So begin with the star who stayed: Strasburg. He first signed a seven-year, $175 million extension in Might 2016, when he was lower than six months from free company — a shocking growth. After successful the World Series MVP award in 2019, he exercised an opt-out clause in that deal to develop into a free agent — solely to signal a seven-year, $245 million deal with the crew that drafted him first in 2009.

I’m not going to cover. On the time of that contract, I wrote: “This feels proper. That is the way it ought to have ended.”

Why Patrick Corbin’s name comes up in Juan Soto trade speculation

There’s some “professional” evaluation for you. Within the three seasons since, Strasburg has made solely eight begins. Following an aborted comeback from surgical procedure to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome, there’s no telling if he’ll pitch once more. Associated: Since 2020, solely Arizona and Pittsburgh have misplaced extra video games than the Nationals — who’re charging quick from behind, trailing 198-196 heading into Monday night time. Their play over that stretch interprets to a 100-loss tempo in a season. It’s fairly a fall.

Strasburg didn’t come first in all of this, however his standing — making $35 million per yr to not pitch — has essentially the most impression on the group. There was drama and angst over Harper’s departure in free company, however in the long run he got the $330 million he wanted — with no deferrals, because the Nationals had provided — from the Phillies. The Nationals received the World Collection the following yr with out him. I’ll by no means imagine the Nats have been higher as a result of he left, however they definitely may survive — and even thrive.

Rendon’s departure was virtually telegraphed even because the Nationals got here again from a 19-31 start in 2019 to achieve the playoffs and blitz to the title. The third baseman — the Nats’ final actual draft-and-develop success, the Game 7 hero who homered off Zack Greinke to arrange Howie Kendrick — by no means appeared solely enamored with Washington or the group. He cared about his teammates, and he cared about successful. However whereas Harper at all times appeared to have one foot within the door, Rendon at all times appeared to have one out.

There are folks within the group who would have most well-liked to signal Rendon for the seven years and $245 million that went to Strasburg — and people have been precisely the phrases of Rendon’s deal with the Angels. However Rendon’s tenure in Orange County has been bumpy — his on-base-plus-slugging proportion in his final three seasons with the Nats was .953, and in his three seasons with the Angels it’s .780 — and he’s out for the yr with a wrist damage. Bullet dodged? In hindsight, perhaps. However solely in hindsight.

Turner continues to be the hardest one to take — thus far. A lot went into the Nationals’ resolution to trade away everything that wasn’t nailed down final summer time: their file on the time, Strasburg’s incapability to pitch, the skinny farm system, their prospects for 2023. All of it contributed, and if there’s a day when Keibert Ruiz is the catcher for Josiah Grey in a postseason recreation — properly, it’ll be some model of value it, as a result of these are the important thing items that got here in return from the Dodgers for Turner and Max Scherzer.

However will that future, hard-to-see-from-here October recreation additionally characteristic Soto in proper subject?

“I’d like to see him play his entire profession in Washington as a result of he’s a franchise participant and I don’t assume guys like him must be let go or depart,” Turner stated. “They need to do no matter they will to maintain them, for my part.”

He was talking about Soto, whose future is in flux as a result of he turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension — and the Nats don’t appear inclined to boost it. However Turner may have been talking about any of these all-star Nationals who went earlier than him — himself included. There are causes Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner aren’t in Washington anymore. There are rationalizations for exploring a commerce of Juan Soto now. Stephen Strasburg’s contract and Stephen Strasburg’s accidents are woven into all of it.

The snapshots are separate from each other, every with its personal rationalization. However the e book, as an entire, is miserable. And it could be including one other chapter — all whereas the losses mount.

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