LOS ANGELES. It takes incredible self-confidence to turn down $440 million. No baseball player has ever earned so much for one contract. Most of us would happily sign.
But most of us are not in the big leagues, and even in this tight community there is only one Juan Soto. Few can match his talent, and perhaps no one can match his showmanship.
Fans did not vote for Soto to start in the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. Five outfield players finished ahead of him in the voting, with Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts and Jock Pederson taking the starting spots. Soto hasn’t quite lived up to his career standards for most of this season, and his team, the Washington Nationals, has the worst record in baseball.
However, Soto is here, and when Soto enters the stadium, amazing things usually happen. He found a way to dominate Monday’s All-Star Eve with his punches and answering questions. After spending about an hour early in the day discussing his future with reporters, Soto spent the early evening winning the Home Run Derby.
As a statement of its value, it was hard to be more emphatic.
“It’s one more thing I add to my trophy box and it will stay there forever,” said Soto, who outpointed Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez in the finals after he eliminated Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez and St. Louis. Albert Pujol Louis. “And I will forever be the champion of the Home Run Derby.”
The Nationals would like to keep Soto in his form forever, or at least for the next 15 years. They hoped to tempt him with a better offer than Mike Trout’s record $426.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. But it’s all about perception.
For Soto and his agent Scott Boras, the more important metric is the average annual value of the offer: $29.3 million, well below Max Scherzer’s record of $43.3 million in his three-year, $130 million deal with the Mets. Soto can’t be a free agent until the end of the 2024 season, so while he’s waiting, maybe a better offer or maybe a trade.
National Scherzer case and shortstop Tree Turner to the Dodgers last summer, officially signaling a facelift. The franchise is up for sale and would like to build around Soto, who is only 23 years old. But for now, he’s something like a Rembrandt in a third-class art show, a masterpiece painfully out of place.
The Nationals publicly promised not to trade Soto, but that was before contract negotiations fell through. Boras made many deals with the Nationals, but on Monday he chastised them for sending Soto on a commercial flight to Los Angeles while other teams were paying for charters. The relationship between player and team seems strained at best.
“All the conversations they have, they will have with him,” Soto said, referring to Boras. “I’m just going to be here to play baseball. I’m just going to go to the National Park and give 100% every day.”
He has his clichés, but otherwise Soto has an aversion to the ordinary. He guards the strike zone with such intensity that even a serve can be convincing. And no one can match his scoring percentage: Of 87 major league players in 500 games over the past five seasons, Soto ranks first in batting and slugging percentage at .968.
“Competing with Juan, from the day he entered the big leagues and entered the Nationals club at the show, he took the league by storm,” said the Mets’ Pete Alonso, who lost to Rodriguez in the second round on Monday. breaking his two-game derby win streak.
“I personally like him, but it’s not very pleasant to compete with him, because usually he does what Juan does. He’s a great player and he’s been there for so many years. He’s a championship player.”
Soto, who helped the Nationals win the 2019 World Series, was hitting .215 back on June 25. Since then, he’s been almost unstoppable – a .411 batting average with as many homers as strikeouts (six) and 22 walks. Home Run Derby should only help.
Last summer in Colorado, Soto ruined a much-touted derby debut for the Angels’ Shohei Otani by knocking him out in the first round and blowing up the night’s longest homer at 520 feet. According to Soto, by deliberately trying to pick up the ball, he unblocked a swing that effectively turned him into Ted Williams after the All-Star break with a .348 batting average, .525 on-base percentage and .639 slugging percentage.
Alonso – perhaps the most enthusiastic participant in the history of the derby – also disputes the theory that this event leads to bad habits.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Honestly, my performances in the second half after that were very, very good. Actually stellar. I think in a way the derby locks me up and prepares me for the second half.”
Soto has nothing to prove to the teams concerned, but the locked version can only increase his exceptional trading value until the events of August. 2 term. If the home run derby was any indication, he wouldn’t be distracted at all.
“I’m the only survivor,” Soto said. “I’ve been through it all and I’m still here, standing with my chin up, all the time. And it shows that I can go through anything.”