Soto wins Home Run Derby
Nats star shuts out talk of future, rejection of $440M contract offer
LOS ANGELES — The clearest picture of just how much Juan Soto’s suddenly uncertain future with the Washington Nationals is dominating the baseball world wasn’t caught on any of the half-dozen cameras that were set up long before Soto took his place in front of his nameplate Monday afternoon, before he won the Home Run Derby later that night.
Those cameras were focused on Soto, not the horde of reporters waiting for him, so they missed the trio of men who lingered just out of frame, to Soto’s left.
His agent, Scott Boras, and two of Boras’s assistants stood there, mere feet away. Dozens of Boras clients have sat through sessions such as those in all-star weeks such as these. Boras hasn’t been that close for many of them.
The obvious implication was that Boras and his staff felt it necessary to be nearby as the 23-year-old fielded unwelcome questions about the record $440 million he turned down from the Nationals and whether Washington will listen to trade offers ahead of the Aug. 2 deadline.
A week or so ago, Soto wouldn’t have had to spend his all-star break answering questions such as these. But when details of the Nationals’ contract offer came out, Soto was thrust into a swirl of rumors and speculation for which he says he did not ask.
“It was pretty tough. Pretty frustrating. I try to keep my stuff private, don’t try to throw stuff out there,” Soto said of the leak. “It feels really bad, but at the end of the day we just have to keep playing.”
A month and a half ago, Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said publicly
the Nationals would not be trading Soto. Soto said no one with the Nationals has explained to him what changed since then, though the obvious catalyst appears to be turning down the $440 million deal.
“I haven’t talked with anybody to tell me how that changed or what was the mindset, but definitely it’s like you say, a couple weeks ago they were saying they would never trade me and now all these things come out,” Soto said. “It feels real uncomfortable. You don’t know what to trust.”
Asked if the past few days have changed his relationship with the Nationals, Soto said, “Never.” He repeated things he told reporters in Washington this past weekend — namely that he doesn’t have control over the situation and just wants to play baseball.
Soto never seemed overly burdened at all during the derby. He pumped up Albert Pujols early, then beat him in the semifinals (after eliminating José Ramírez in the first round, flipping his bat with classic Soto swagger as he advanced). His mechanics deteriorated round by round, swing by swing, as he grew visibly fatigued. But he didn’t seem to mind a bit, leaning every ounce of his strength into every final-round swing until he had delivered enough home runs to best Julio
Rodríguez in the final. And when ESPN’s Buster Olney asked Soto what he wanted for his future as he hoisted the derby trophy, Soto said he wasn’t even thinking about it, that he won the championship “for the Nationals.”
But earlier in the day, he seemed like a man bracing for change, should it come.
“Can’t do anything about it. I have my hands tied. I’m just going to play as hard as I can and play baseball. Forget about everything else,” he said. “I don’t make the decisions. They make the decisions. If they want to make the decision, I’ve got to pack my stuff and go.”
Soto already has dealt with swift change once in his young career. He began his Nationals tenure surrounded by players such as Max Scherzer, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon. By August of last season, he was the last star standing, a relative veteran not far removed from being the one following the veterans’ lead. He arrived as a young star on a World Series contender and now finds himself as the best player on the majors’ worst team.
“It’s very frustrating, but at the end of the day, we’re just trying our best. For me, I’m trying my best. I know those guys are trying their best. But things just aren’t going our way,” Soto said.