Juan Soto should be the centerpiece of the next great Cubs team

(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

At just 22 years of age last season, Nationals outfielder Juan Soto turned in one of the most eye-popping seasons in recent memory. So it makes sense Washington, rebuilding in a manner similar to the Cubs, would want to lock him up for years to come – hence the 13-year, $350 million extension offer they reportedly laid at his feet before the lockout.

Soto declined the offer, which wasn’t, by any means, an unreasonable or unrealistic proposal by the Nationals. But the simple truth is that if the young outfielder continues on his current trajectory, he could very well be baseball’s first $500 million contract when he hits free agency following the 2024 season.

"“Yes, they made me the offer a couple of months ago, before the lockout we have in baseball,” Soto 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.”"

Last season in Washington, Soto slashed .313/.465/.534, leading the league in walks and on-base percentage while bringing home his second-straight Silver Slugger and finishing runner-up in the National League MVP voting. After the Nationals unloaded key pieces at the deadline, including former Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber, Soto somehow got better in that weakened lineup, getting on base at a ridiculous .545 clip in the second half.

For some time now, Mike Trout has been considered the best all-around player in baseball. But if you’re looking for some alternatives with Trout coming off an injury-shortened 2021 season, a good place to start would be Soto.

To say he’ll have a lengthy queue of suitors when he hits free agency in three years’ time is a drastic understatement. Competition will be fierce and we’re going to be talking about astronomically high dollars and length in years before it’s all said and done. But none of that should matter to Jed Hoyer, because Soto is a generational talent and should be a top priority of the front office when that time comes.

Cubs have unlimited financial flexibility looking at the years ahead

Chicago has no contracts on the books at that point. The team’s current largest financial commitments – Marcus Stroman and Jason Heyward – both come off the books after 2023, assuming the right-hander opts out in lieu of exercising his player option for a third year.

A big piece of this puzzle will be what the next collective bargaining agreement looks like – and the potential luxury tax thresholds. But with the Cubs rolling with a group of young, pre-arbitration players and reclamation projects, at least right now, there’s nothing standing in the way of this team getting big and bold in free agency in the years to come.

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Soto will hit free agency at age-26, far younger than what we typically see. So envisioning a 14-year, $500 million deal that takes him through his age-40 season really isn’t all that awful when you think about it. We’re still three years from this point – but at a time when Chicago is looking toward the future, this has the potential to be the statement move that shapes the next great run.