Will Juan Soto sign MLB’s first $500 million contract? Four reasons the new Padres star could take a big step

Juan Soto, now of the San Diego Padres, is no longer the story of the 2022 MLB Trade Deadline. Indeed, the 2022 MLB Trade Deadline has passed. Soto, however, remains the story. He’s history in large part because of what he means to San Diego’s roster and their playoff hopes. He is also history because of the very real possibility of him eventually becoming baseball’s first $500 million man.

Whether Soto threatens or surpasses that once unimaginable mark via free agency or a contract extension with San Diego is yet to be determined, but whatever specific route he takes, he has a real chance of getting a guarantee of, yes. , half a billion dollars (or Sequel!). If your baseball fandom goes back many years, then that’s a pretty amazing premise – perhaps worth exploring further. Let’s do just that and explore why Soto could soon be making MLB salary history on a massive scale.

1. Soto is a rare hitter

Soto this season is batting .246/.408/.485 with MLB-leading 21 homers and 91 walks in 101 games. For his career, he now has a slash of .291/.427/.538 over five big league seasons. He’s also posted .400 or more on-base percentage in every season of his career so far, resulting in this:

What’s even more impressive is that Soto is the author of these numbers despite playing home games in a stadium that suppresses attack. Look at OPS+, which corrects for stadium and league influences, and we see that Soto for his career has a park-adjusted OPS of 160, meaning he’s 60% better than the league average of 100. This puts him in elite company among players under the age of 23 with a minimum of 500 games played:

Ted Williams

190

Ty Cobb

171

Mike Trout

169

Juan Soto

160

Eddie Mathews

157

Mickey coat

156

Jimmie Foxx

154

Mel Ott

153

Rogers Hornsby, Arky Vaughn

150

Yes, Soto’s career OPS+ of 160 is the fourth highest on record for a player 23 or younger and a minimum of 500 games played. Scan the list above and you’ll find that the only players who aren’t currently Hall of Famers are Mike Trout and Soto. Enviable company, that.

His exceptional contact qualities and mastery of the strike zone also suggest he will age well as a hitter. Even though he hits for power and has excellent speed-out numbers, Soto has far more walks – 464 total – than strikeouts – 412. Unsurprisingly, he’s in the 99th percentile when it’s about laying off pitches outside the strike zone. What you want from a true batsman at the heart of order is power mixed with patience – or, if you prefer, high slugging averages mixed with on-base percentages. Soto delivers these things better than almost anyone in the game today.

In addition to all these merits, Soto has also been durable. This season, he is on course to record his third season of at least 150 games played in the past four years. The exception, of course, is 2020, when the regular season was shortened to just 60 games.

2. He is also still very young

When Soto made his league debut in 2018, he was just 19 years and 207 days old. Reaching the highest level in baseball at such a young age is in itself a sign of future greatness, and it also puts the player in line to reach important service time benchmarks well ahead of most peers. For example, Soto secured refereeing eligibility – aided by the ‘super two’ system – for the 2021 season. At the time, he was just 22 years old. If he signs an extension during the current season, he will do so at 23. If this happens during the winter, he will be 24 years old. If Soto avoids doing it, then he’ll become a free agent at 26.

When a player combines excellence with youth – especially as free agency looms – he’s going to make big money. This is because it already promises an established level of high performance, and it intends to maintain that level or thereabouts for many years to come. When you’re as young as Soto, there’s also the tantalizing possibility that he’s still pre-peak. Teams will pay for it.

3. Soto and his camp turned down $440 million from the Nats

Let’s recognize the obvious. The only reason we have this discussion is because Soto reportedly passed on a 15-year, $440 million extension offered by the Washington Nationals, the team that traded him on Tuesday. Soto had been on a life sentence from the Nats since signing with them as a 16-year-old international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. As well as spending almost a third of his life under the banner of the Nationals, he also won a World Series. with them in 2019. All that to say there is no suggestion that Soto turned down the offer due to dissatisfaction with the organization or an overriding desire to play elsewhere. On the contrary, he most likely refused because he felt that the going rates for his services were a bit higher. Typically, players and their reps are right about this, just as teams typically overestimate the magnitude of any “hometown cut”.

What Soto is worth is truly unknowable until he signs his next contract, but here’s a semi-recent educated guess that fits the current premise pretty well:

Value is a fluid concept, of course, and as of this writing, Spotrac pegs Soto’s current market value at just over $483 million. It’s obviously less than $500 million, but it’s well within the range. And as you saw above, Soto has a valuation of $500 million in his recent past.

4. An extension might be the most likely path

Germane to this discussion is that the four biggest contracts in MLB history have been extensions, not free agent pacts:

*You will sometimes see Trout’s extension listed at a lower value, but the total value figure of $426.5 million reflects the fact that the extension replaced the last two seasons of Trout’s previous contract.

Along those same lines, it’s a steep price when teams buy back free agent years, and in Soto’s case, they wouldn’t just get cost certainty in his last two years of free agent. ‘arbitration; they would also pay for 10 or more years of free agency. Additionally, the Padres have a strong incentive to do what it takes to secure Soto’s services beyond the current horizon, as they have paid a huge price in young talent to have him.

At this point, it is worth emphasizing his unusual youth again. Of the four record contract extensions you see above — the four biggest contracts in MLB history, you’ll recall — only new teammate Tatis Jr., at 22, was younger than Soto at the time. time of its extension. Trout, Betts and Lindor were all 27 – much older than Soto right now.

Tatis’ total contract value might seem like a point against signing Soto for $500 million or more, but don’t forget the context. Tatis signed its extension in early 2021 as revenues were still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement also added to the uncertainties involved. Additionally, Tatis had previously dealt with serious back problems, which is a worrying thing in a young player who plays a demanding defensive position and that was surely reflected in the final price. Add to that several years of wage inflation, and Tatis’s deal doesn’t really look like a framework for Soto.

In fact, it may sound like a harbinger of de Soto becoming, yes, MLB’s first $500 million player.

Neal T. Doss