Turning down $440 million, Juan Soto just wants to play

LOS ANGELES – Before Juan Soto met with reporters on the Monday ahead of the 2022 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium the next day, he took out his cell phone and made a call. Moments later, his agent Scott Boras appeared, also on the phone. With a few assistants, Boras stood a few feet from Soto, answering questions, many of them about his future.

Soto, a 23-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder, is one of the sport’s biggest stars. He is a two-time All-Star. He won the batting title in 2020 and the World Series in 2019. In five seasons, he has 118 home runs and a .968 on base plus hitting percentage. Since his debut season in 2018, only seven players have amassed more wins than a substitute, according to FanGraphs.

The Nationals tried to sign Soto to a long-term contract extension, but those efforts were unsuccessful. The latest offer, a 15-year, $440 million extension that would have been the largest contract in MLB history, was rejected. As a result, there were reports on Saturday that the Nationals would be involved in a trade for Soto, who will become a free agent in 2025.

How does the franchise properly evaluate and then acquire the talent they need in exchange for Soto? And, first, how does the team deal with the treacherous PR battle of parting ways with a popular young superstar, either through free agency or an exchange?

“For me now, I’m just concentrating on baseball,” said Soto, who is hitting .250 with 20 home runs and a .901 OPS. “You can’t do anything about it. My hands are tied. I’ll just play my best, play baseball and forget everything else. I don’t make decisions. They make decisions. If they want to make a decision, I should just pack my things and leave. Now I’m going to keep playing baseball with all my might.”

Soto was clearly angered by the fact that the latest extension proposal went public. He said it was “pretty difficult and pretty frustrating because I try to keep my stuff under wraps.”

Asked if the citizens and Soto would continue discussing an extension, Boras responded on Monday. He said: “When we do these things, we want all of our discussions to be confidential. We now know that this is not the case, so I’m sure Juan will take note of that as he moves forward.”

In June, Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ longtime general manager, stated that the team was “not selling” Soto and “we have made it clear to his agent and player”. On Monday, Soto said no one told him why it changed, if at all.

“It’s really inconvenient,” he added. “You don’t know what to trust. But in the end it’s not in my hands.”

But why did Soto turn down such a large sum of money?

“It’s a very unique setting,” Boras said, before referring to Alex Rodriguez, a former star infielder. “I haven’t had a player who has been a superstar since A-Rod, who becomes a free agent at the age of 25-26. They just don’t show up that often when you have that level of productivity for their teams. They offer clubs added value that can reach a billion dollars per result.

Boras, who generally prefers his clients to set their value in free will rather than negotiate with just one team, added that there are billions in baseball while there are millions of players, and that Soto is “at the top of the food chain.” “.

Although there are many complicating factors. The Lerners, who own the Nationals, are amused by offers to sell the team.

Since they won the 2019 World Series, the Nationals haven’t had a single winning season and have the worst MLB record of 31-63 this year. They are in the midst of a recovery and it is not clear how soon they will be fighting again. And last month, the Nationals exercised contract options on Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez, but those extensions only last until the 2023 season.

Soto said he would like to meet the new owner of the team and find out what’s on his mind and how to help the team win.

“He is in a position where he is a huge asset to a major league franchise and that franchise is about to be sold,” Boras said. “I don’t think anyone would want to work for someone they don’t know. So it’s kind of a ghost contract. We don’t know who will pay. Therefore, when you are a player like Juan, you are winning and you want to make sure that there are a lot more things involved than dollars and cents and who you are going to work for and where you are going to be. for most”.

Soto said that he did not think about playing for another team and wanted to win another title with the nationals. He called the team’s lack of wins “very frustrating”. He acknowledged that the negotiations and the extra attention weighed on his mind. He also said that he would probably like to put discussions on hold for the season because “it’s very hard with all this talk and trying to build a winning team.”

Soto, who signed with the Nationals from his native Dominican Republic at the age of 16, insisted his relationship with the team had not changed. However, time will tell.

“I have been a citizen since day one,” he said. “Why should I want to change? I’ve been here all my life and my career. I feel great where I am.”