After turning down $440 million, Juan Soto just wants to play

LOS ANGELES — Before meeting with reporters on Monday ahead of the 2022 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium the following day, Juan Soto pulled out his cell phone and made a call. Moments later, his agent, Scott Boras, also came on the phone. With a few assistants in tow, Boras stood a few yards from Soto as he answered questions, many 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 a batting title in 2020 and the World Series in 2019. In five seasons, he has 118 homers and a .968 on-base plus slugging percentage. Since his rookie season in 2018, only seven players have accumulated more wins than substitutes, according to FanGraphs.

The Nationals have attempted to sign Soto for a long-term contract extension, but those efforts have been unsuccessful. The latest proposal — a $440 million, 15-year extension that would have been the largest contract in MLB history — was rejected. As a result, reports surfaced Saturday that the Nationals were entertaining trades for Soto, who reaches free agency in 2025.

How does a franchise properly assess and acquire the talent needed in exchange for Soto? And first of all, how does a team go through the treacherous PR battle of parting ways with a popular young superstar, either through free agency or a deal?

“For me, my focus right now is baseball,” said Soto, who hits .250 with 20 homers and a .250 OPS. “You can’t do anything about it. my hands are tied I’m just going to play as hard as I can and play baseball and forget about everything else. I don’t make the decisions. You make the decisions. If they want to make the decision, I just have to pack my things and go. Now I’m going to keep playing baseball as hard as I can.”

Soto was visibly upset that the latest renewal offer was made public. He said it’s “pretty difficult and quite frustrating because I’m trying to keep my stuff private.”

When asked if the Nationals and Soto would discuss an extension further, Boras’ response Monday was revealing. He said: “When we do these things we want all of our discussions to be private. We now know that is not the case, so I’m sure Juan will take that into account as he moves forward.”

In June, Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ longtime general manager, said Team Soto “wouldn’t take action” and “we made it clear to his agent and the player.” On Monday, Soto said no one told him why, if at all, that had changed.

“It feels really uncomfortable,” he added. “You don’t know what to trust. But at the end of the day, it’s out of my hands.”

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

“This is a very unique setting,” Boras said, before alluding to Alex Rodriguez, the former star infielder. “I haven’t had a player that’s a superstar that’s going to be a 25-26 year old free agent since A-Rod. They just don’t come around as often when you have that level of performance for their teams. They offer added value to clubs that can amount to up to a billion dollars in output.”

Boras, who generally prefers his clients to freely determine their value rather than deal with just one team, added that baseball is roughly billions while players are roughly millions, and that Soto is “at the top of the food chain.” ” stands.

However, there are many complicating factors. The Lerners, who own the Nationals, make amusing offers to sell the team.

The Nationals have not had a successful season since winning the 2019 World Series and have an MLB-worst 31-63 record this year. They are in the midst of a rebuild, and it’s unclear how soon they’ll be fighting again. And last month, the Nationals exercised contract options for Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez, but those extensions only apply to the 2023 season.

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

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

Soto said he hadn’t thought about playing for another team and wanted to get another title with the Nationals. He called the team’s lack of wins “very frustrating”. He admitted that the negotiations and the extra attention weighed on him. He also said he’d probably want to pause discussions during the season because “it’s very difficult with all the talk and trying to make a winning team.”

Soto, who signed with the Nationals from his native Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old, insisted his relationship with the team hadn’t changed. But time will tell.

“I’ve been a national team player since Day 1,” he said. “Why would I want to change? I’ve been here my whole life and career. I feel great where I am.”

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