Add Soto to list of Nationals sent away too soon and forced to leave memories behind

The Baltimore Orioles, during their glory days four decades ago, adopted the John Denver song, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” for their seventh-inning stretch tradition.

It might be time for the Washington Nationals to pick a song for their seventh-inning stretch. How about Jim Croce’s “Photographs and Memories?”

“Photographs and memories …. all that I have are these to remember you.”

That’s what Nationals fans have left of Juan Soto, the 23-year-old superstar who was traded Tuesday to the San Diego Padres — great photographs, great memories — but just more material for the scrapbook that fans carry in the hearts and minds that connect them to the players they fall in love with on the field, only to watch them leave.

Add Soto to the photographs and memories of Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, and Trea Turner — all shipped out of town too soon. And jerseys. Lots of jerseys — probably more Harper, Scherzer and Soto jerseys than the rest of the team combined.

Oh, don’t forget the welcome back video tributes at Nationals Park. This team leads the league in those.

Soto was dealt away the day of the trading deadline for a bunch of young players who mean nothing to those people who still come to watch games at Nationals Park, who watch games on the hostage cable network or who listen to Charlie and Dave on the radio.

They may mean something someday, perhaps soon, to Nationals fans – pitchers Mackenzie Gore and Jarlin Susana, shortstop C.J. Abrams, outfielders James Wood and Robert Hassell III, and first baseman Luke Voit. After all, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo robbed Padres GM A.J. Preller in 2014 in a complicated three-team deal that landed Trea Turner in Washington. There may be reason to believe that the future holds new photographs and memories.

But don’t get too attached.

There are no heroes or villains here — well, unless you want to count the agent for nearly every one of these players who came and went — Scott Boras. OK, one very big villain.

But while the owners of the Nationals, the Lerner family, have often lacked vision when it comes to running their baseball team, the reality is none of these players were going to sign contracts to stay here and play. Not under Boras’ direction. All of them were going to market to sell themselves. It’s what Boras does with clients, save for the occasional exception like Stephen Strasburg, for whom job security was a bigger prize. We can see why now.

Juan Soto was not signable, no matter what the Lerners offered. He turned down the 15-year, $440 million deal the family offered, supposedly because the average annual salary of $29 million was too low. But whatever reasonable offer the Lerners made, Boras knows that come the winter of 2024, when Soto would be a free agent, what was a record-setting deal today will seem like chump change then — especially if Soto, a two-time All-Star, 2020 batting champion and Most Valuable Player candidate, continues on his path to glory.

He has every right to do so, and Boras has every right to get the most money he can for his clients. I don’t begrudge them that opportunity.

But let’s stop with the phony claims of wanting to stay in Washington and charges of miscommunication and all the other vomit-inducing fairy tales. Stop pretending like the contract is some whole other being that they have no control over. If Juan Soto wanted to stay in Washington, he would still be a National.

Instead, he was “intrigued” at the idea of free agency.

Short of not doing business with Boras, I’m not sure there is any way to stop the exodus. Peter Angelos tried that once with the Orioles. It didn’t work out well for him. Boras is good at his job and gets good players. He represents Gore and Wood.

But it has appeared to work, to some degree, for the defending World Champion Atlanta Braves.

The day before Soto was traded, the Braves signed their young star third baseman, Austin Riley, to a 10-year, $212 million contract – and the Braves still had three years of control of Riley. In 2019, they signed Ronald Acuna to an eight-year, $100 million contract. After trading for first baseman Matt Olson this winter, Atlanta signed him to an eight-year, $168 million contract. In 2019, second baseman Ozzie Albies signed a seven-year, $35 million contract extension.

None of these players are Boras’ clients.

Of course, Boras called these kinds of deals “snuff contracts.”

“Great young players are getting what I call ‘snuff contracts,’” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2019. “And a snuff contract is that they’re trying to snuff out the market. They know the player is a great player, and he’s exhibited very little performance. So they’re coming to him at 20 and 21, and I’m going to snuff out your ability to move, to go anywhere, to do anything, and your value. And I’m going to pay you maybe 40 cents on the dollar to do it. What’s my risk?”

That “40 cents on the dollar” reference by Boras means what the player would get in free agency. Juan Soto was not so intrigued by that idea. So now he’s gone, leaving photographs and memories behind.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

Correction: An earlier version of this column misidentified Trea Turner‘s agent.