The Nationals had an opportunity to sign Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2014, but the deal fell through. Now the question arises, what if the deal had never fallen apart?
The Washington Nationals are known for their young outfield, led by phenom Juan Soto and rising star Victor Robles. Both of them are regarded as two of the top young outfielders in the game (23 and under), with the Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuna Jr. rivaling the two.
After the Nationals won the World Series, the teams Vice President of International Operations Johnny DiPuglia told MLB Network that he had a chance to sign Ronald Acuna Jr., but squandered the opportunity. The story was covered by NBC Sports Washington. DiPuglia stated,
"“This one was really deadly for me,”. “Ronald Acuna, [I] verbally had an agreement with him. Later in the day, he said he wanted more money and I didn’t amp up.” “So I could’ve had Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto and Victor Robles.”"
Now that’s just heartbreaking. Acuna Jr. made his MLB debut in 2018 and narrowly defeated Juan Soto in NL Rookie of the Year voting. In his two seasons in the league, Acuna Jr. is hitting, .285, with 67 homers, and 180 RBIs. Alongside Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman, he has gone on to help revamp the Braves and turned them into a title contender. But what if Washington didn’t balk at his contract demands and he became a Nat?
If the Nationals had agreed to Acuna Jr’s. contract demands, the team could be looking at an outfield of him, Soto, and Robles. Washington would have arguably the best outfield in baseball, but would the three all be together?
In this reality, Soto, Robles, and Acuna Jr. all would have been in the Nationals minor league system by 2015. Robles signed with the team in 2013, Acuna Jr. in 2014, and Soto in 2015. The first big hurdle that might have sent one of them to a different team was in December of 2016.
After the 2016 season, Chris Sale was on the trade block and the Nationals were heavily involved. They were outbid at the last second by the Boston Red Sox. But with Acuna Jr. in tow, would the Nationals have upped the ante? Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post tweeted out the Nationals alleged offer for Sale.
While that was a massive offer, would the Nationals had offered Acuna Jr. or Soto to make sure the deal got done? In this scenario, the Nationals decide against upping the offer, and Sale still ends up going to Boston, while Washington acquires Adam Eaton. The 2017 season doesn’t have any changes, with Victor Robles making his MLB debut and the Chicago Cubs eliminating the Nats in the NLDS. After the 2017 season, according to MLB Pipeline, Robles is the number four ranked prospect, Acuna Jr. the number six prospect, and Soto the number 37 ranked prospect in baseball.
Heading into the 2018 season and the Nationals were once again involved in trade talks for a star, this time it was the Marlins J.T. Realmuto. At the time, the Washington Nationals had one of the weakest catching tandems in the game and were in dire need of an upgrade. The Marlins wanted a package to be built around Victor Robles and trade talks stalled. Knowing the Nationals have two top ten prospects on the verge of making the starting lineup, Mike Rizzo holds pat.
The 2018 season starts the same for the Nats, with the first big change coming in May. Due to Adam Eaton missing time because of an injury, Juan Soto was called up in May of 2018 to replace him. Robles was supposed to be called up but, was placed on the IL when he hyperextended his elbow in a minor league game. This time around, Acuna Jr. gets called up instead of Soto and takes the MLB by storm. As the season gets away from the Nats, they call up both Robles and Soto in September, when the roster expanded to 40. In a brief sample size, Soto goes deep multiple times, showing a glimpse of his offensive potential. In the off-season, Bryce Harper still leaves for the Phillies, and Acuna Jr. is named NL Rookie of the Year. Knowing Robles and Soto are both ready to start, the Nats make both Michael A. Taylor and Eaton available for trade.
The Nats flip Eaton to a team looking for outfield depth for a couple of prospects. The Nationals young outfield immediately puts on a show, with the three pushing each other to get better. This past season, the Nationals struggled early on, mostly due to the bullpen. However, a majority of the offense landed on the IL,. Acuna Jr. and Robles help keep the offense afloat as players such as Soto, Matt Adams, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, and Anthony Rendon all missed time. The team still falls to 19-31, but with the offense mostly healthy, the team goes on a run. From May 24, on, the Nationals become the hottest team in baseball.
While the Braves are still a powerhouse, the absence of Acuna Jr. leads to a tight division race. Instead of winning 98 games, the Braves win 94 and narrowly win the NL East. The playoffs go a lot smoother for the Nats, with the Nats having extra firepower in the form of Acuna Jr. In the end, the Nats still win their first-ever World Series title. Soto finishes second in NL Rookie of the Year to the Mets Pete Alonso.
Even without Adam Eaton’s $9.5 million off the books, Washington decides against paying Rendon and he leaves in free agency. However, Soto now has protection in the lineup in the form of Acuna Jr. The Nationals enter 2020 as the favorite to win the NL East and the second-best team in the NL, behind only the Dodgers.