Juan Soto knew the drill when he arrived at Dodger Stadium for the media availability of the All-Star Game on Monday. The media audience waited. The questions came.
Finding the table with his name tag on it and a sea of sportswriters and cameramen burning in the heat, he stepped backstage, away from the group, to chat with the other man everyone wanted to hear from: his Agent Scott Boras. It was time for a short final prep session.
“How are we?” Soto told the media as he took his seat after the chat.
Then came the barrage from all angles, in English and Spanish, over his future for the next 45 minutes, with Boras hovering a few yards away.
News broke on Saturday that the Washington Nationals were ready to trade Soto, their superstar outfielder, through the Aug. 2 close after he turned down a $440 million, 15-year contract extension. The development, a month after Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said he would not trade Soto, sent shockwaves through the majors. On Monday she dominated the discourse.
Soto, 23, remained polished and fearless, switching back and forth between the two languages with ease. Reporters asked Soto, the only last-place Nationals All-Star, if he would welcome playing for the Dodgers or the San Diego Padres or either team in New York. He didn’t bite. He stuck to the company line. But he expressed his disappointment with his club.
“A few weeks ago they said they would never trade me, and now all these things were coming out,” Soto said hours before becoming the second-youngest winner in home run derby history. “It feels really uncomfortable. You don’t know what to trust, but at the end of the day it’s not up to me what decision they make.”
Soto, who earns $17 million this season, said he would rather not negotiate an in-season extension. He claimed he was 100% invested in the Nationals and their rebuild, but admitted the idea of free agency appealed to him after the 2024 season.
“Yes why not?” said Soto. “At the end of the day, we want to see what the market will be like for everyone.”
The situation is further complicated by the uncertainty surrounding Nationals ownership after the team was put up for sale in April. Boras hinted that Soto won’t sign a contract extension until the situation is clarified.
“I don’t think a player will sign with an owner he doesn’t know,” Boras said.
Soto isn’t the first star to address mid-season trade rumours. He’s not even the first to face speculation at an All-Star game in recent history. Manny Machado knew the Baltimore Orioles would trade him when he traveled to Washington, DC for the 2018 All-Star Game. Days later, the Dodgers brought him in to replace an injured Corey Seager at shortstop for the remainder of the season.
But the Soto Sweepstakes are on another level. He’s a superior hitter who’s considered one of the best in the world at just 23 years old and 2½ seasons from a free hand. Machado was a semi-seasonal rental. Soto could help a team for three pennant races before chasing a record-breaking contract in the market.
The way to acquire it would be unprecedented. The Dodgers, Padres, Mets and Yankees are all considered possible landing spots with the potential capital needed, but almost any team in the majors could justify selling the farm for Soto. He’s so good, so young, so desirable. This year, for example, has been described as a “down season” for Soto, despite hitting 20 homers with a .901 on-base plus slugging percentage.
“You have to explain how four people who are obviously not Juan Soto can create the value of Juan Soto together,” Boras said. “Personally, I don’t want to make that argument.”
Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner knows the stakes better than anyone. He was in disbelief when he saw the news on Saturday.
“I texted him and said, ‘What the hell is going on over there?'” Turner said.
Turner watched Soto burst onto the scene in 2018 and established himself as one of the world’s best players as a teammate in Washington and won a World Series together in 2019 before being traded to the Dodgers last summer. They remain close friends. In October, Soto participated in the wild card game at Dodger Stadium wearing a Turner Nationals jersey in support.
“I think he’s the ultimate competitor, while for the most part he’s nice,” Turner said. “I know he messes with people or doesn’t like him from the other side. He just competes and he loves to compete.”
Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber was one of those guys on the other side. Soto’s cockiness, accentuated by his trademark “Soto Shuffle” in the batter’s box, angered Schwarber.
“I was like, ‘Man, fuck this guy,'” Schwarber said.
Then they became teammates in Washington last season.
“Meeting him as a person completely changed my mind,” Schwarber said. “I love this kid. He’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.”
Schwarber called Soto “the most mature 23-year-old” you’ll ever see. Other All-Stars echoed the compliments Monday, some openly saying they wanted to see their franchises pull through the trade. Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud said Soto is the toughest hitter to face in the majors. Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman described Soto as a “generational talent”.
“For someone to be able to control the hitting zone so early in their career is unheard of,” Freeman said. “You don’t see it. The way he carries himself, the joy he has for this game, that’s something special.”
Because of this, the possibility of Soto trading in the next two weeks has rocked the industry. A trade could change the landscape of Major League Baseball for the next three seasons. It could change the trajectory of a franchise. It will be the talk of the league until it’s resolved.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-07-18/juan-soto-trade-market-nationals-scott-boras-dodgers Juan Soto on the trade market is shaking MLB to its core