MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Washington Nationals fans are experiencing a certain level of anxiety these days, which is understandable, since for the first time, really, since the club’s arrival in D.C. 17 years ago, things are not going so swimmingly for them.

The big buzz in baseball for the past week-plus has been Nationals aircraft carrier (Al McGuire-ese for the center of the team with all the big guns) outfielder Juan Soto, just 23 years of age, tuning down the Nats’ 15-year offer for $440 million, which prompted Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo to let it be known the club would be exploring all trade options for the All-Star outfielder.

Now hold that thought, please …

This latest news from the Nats’ recent revolving door comes after years of a hard-earned charmed existence for the Nats and their fans – hard earned because it was earned on the savvy, the moxie, the scouting and the knowhow of Rizzo, a modern-day old-school baseball executive.

It comes after Rizzo built a perennial contender and then a World Series champion, one of the most forgotten World Series champions due to the pandemic and its aftereffects on the game.

It comes after the Nationals mostly developed and acquired legitimate top-shelf baseball stars, then made hollow or virtually no serious offers to keep them in Washington, or traded them – Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner (the one that signaled the incoming rebuild) and Max Scherzer, not to mention everybody’s favorite manager, Dusty Baker, all for the simple reason that the Lerner family, which owns the team, did not want to pay top dollar to retain their services.

(And in light of what has happened to the one they did pay top dollar to, pitcher Stephen Strasburg, perhaps they are justified in feeling this way …)

On top of that, through it all, the Lerners, who made their fortune in real estate and development, announced they are now exploring every opportunity to sell the club, given the revenue they have lost during the pandemic.

Now, as for Soto, it would seem the Nats’ extension offer of $440 million, while certainly sweet eye candy, is a hollow offer as well, because what player of this caliber in his right mind, who is just 23 and still has two years of arbitration before becoming a free agent for the first time, wants to agree to a 15-year deal?

Why would Soto take the deal? Chances are he won’t get his money for closer to 20-plus years instead of the advertised 15. Players and their agents (and Soto has one of the best and most ruthless in Scott Boras) view that as fake money, which, for a player such as Soto, is just what it is.

Conversely, since Soto turned down the deal, what other choice do the Nats, mired in last place in the NL East and in the early stages of a rebuild, have other than to explore a trade for Soto, which will surely bring a high return if they can find a taker who has the top prospects to swap and the money to pay the player?

The Nationals had to make that offer, which they knew Soto would decline, because they are going to be very bad for the next two years with him or without him, they won’t want to pay him through a rebuild and his arbitration, and won’t be able to pay him once he becomes a free agent for the first time.

So why not put the word out that you are ready to entertain offers for a player of this magnitude? If the Nationals can find a taker, which will not be easy, it will bring a high return; not as high as what they are giving away, but high in a helpful and very constructive way for a complete rebuild, which the organization is currently embarking upon, and which Rizzo has proven he knows how to do.

As for any takers, should they have the prospects to surrender and the money to pay through two years of arbitration (round up the usual suspects), they will have two-plus years to benefit from Soto’s skills and to find a way to complete a long-term deal with the player if they so desire.

I’m not a Nationals fan by any stretch of the imagination, as some of you may or may not know, but I do admire how Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo goes about his business.

And in the difficult matter of the Juan Soto embarrassment of riches, coupled with an incoming rebuild and an impending change of ownership, I believe Rizzo has played things perfectly once more.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT