Juan Soto expressed frustration today that terms of the Nationals’ latest contract proposal to the star slugger were made public, leading to a new report that the club will “entertain” offers for him leading up to next month’s trade deadline.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Soto recently turned down a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals, a deal that would be the largest in major league history in total value but wouldn’t rank nearly as high in average annual salary. A source familiar with the discussions confirmed those figures, adding the offer included no deferred money but was back-loaded to leave the highest salary figures in the final years of the deal.
Soto declined to discuss details of talks that have been ongoing for months and have included multiple offers, redirecting those questions to agent Scott Boras, but acknowledged his frustration that this latest proposal became public.
“It feels really bad to see stuff going out like that, because I’m a guy who, my side, keeps everything quiet and try to keep it to them and me,” Soto said in a brief session with beat reporters inside the Nationals clubhouse prior to today’s game against the Braves. “They just make the decision and do what they need to do.”
Soto, who can’t become a free agent for another 2 1/2 seasons, has been on a recent tear at the plate, having reached base in 24 consecutive games, just having a career-high hitting streak end at 16 games and raising his OPS an even 100 points (from .795 to .895) heading into the final weekend of the season’s first half.
He’s headed to his second straight All-Star Game following Sunday’s contest and will be competing in Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, where he’s now certain to become even more the center of attention than he already would’ve been under normal circumstances.
“It won’t do any damage to my weekend,” he said. “I’m going to try to enjoy as much as I can. I know it feels a little uncomfortable at the beginning, but I will be fine.”
General manager Mike Rizzo has insisted on multiple occasions this season he had no intent of trading Soto before the league’s Aug. 2 deadline. The calculus, of course, could always change based on Rizzo’s sense of the club’s ability (or inability) to re-sign Soto to a long-term deal. The veteran GM, not surprisingly, would need to be overwhelmed with an offer of a host of top prospects from another organization in order to actually make a trade at this point.
Much as he has tried to keep these talks under wraps from the outset, Soto hasn’t been able to prevent details from emerging on multiple occasions. Each new report in recent months has included larger contract terms, capped off by this latest offer, which would surpass Mike Trout’s record $426.5 million deal with the Angels in total value but would rank 20th with an average annual salary of $29.33 million.
Soto is making $17.1 million this season, his second of four years of arbitration eligibility. That system traditionally benefits players who wait it out, all but guaranteeing sizeable increases each year based on performance and comparisons to other players. It would not be surprising at all if, through arbitration, Soto winds up with a salary over $35 million in 2024, his final season before he can become a free agent.
Like the vast majority of Boras’ top clients, Soto is in a position to trust himself to continue to perform and stay healthy, reaching free agency just after turning 26 and then having the ability to negotiate with 30 clubs instead of only one.
There’s also reason to believe he prefers to wait to see if and when the Lerner family sells the Nationals to a new ownership group, not to mention to see if a franchise that won the World Series in 2019 will begin to see evidence of last summer’s roster teardown and rebuild leading to a contending club again. At the moment, the Nats have lost 14 of their last 15 games (the worst such stretch in club history) and own the majors’ worst record at 30-62.
“It’s pretty tough,” Soto said today when asked about the club’s losing. “I’ve even been talking to some of my teammates. I’ve been trying to get something from them, because it’s going to be weird. I get the taste of winning (in 2019), so I want to win every year. I don’t want to keep losing. I hate losing. It is what it is. At the end of the day, we just have to go through it, because as they told me, we all have to go through those moments to win a championship. For me, I think I’m going through mine. I'm just going to keep positive and keep seeing things forward.”
Soto is only the latest player to come up through the Nationals farm system, become a star and face persistent questions about his future beyond the six years of club control every player is tied to after making his major league debut. Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner all went through the same thing, with Harper and Rendon ultimately signing elsewhere as free agents and Turner getting traded to the Dodgers (along with Max Scherzer) in a blockbuster deal last summer.
Soto has always publicly expressed how much he likes playing for the Nationals and living in Washington. And when asked again today if his feelings about that have changed at all, he reiterated his longstanding position.
“For me, this is the team I’ve been (with) since, what, 2015?” he said. “I’ve been with this team, and I feel good with it. When I get to know the city more, it feels great. Why should I need to change?”