WASHINGTON -- The Nationals were major sellers at last year’s Trade Deadline, overhauling their veteran roster to acquire young prospects and build around Juan Soto for the future. One season later, the 23-year-old Soto could be the latest star moved in a blockbuster trade at the Aug. 2 Deadline.
Soto, who does not become a free agent until after the 2024 season, turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract extension from the Nats, sources told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand on Saturday. While talks are ongoing, according to Feinsand, the team now is open to trading the coveted slugging right fielder.
Soto said Saturday he preferred to “keep everything quiet” and reiterated he is going to focus on what he can control on the field.
“Anything you want to know just ask [agent] Scott [Boras],” Soto said prior to going 2-for-4 with a run scored in the Nationals’ 6-3 loss to the Braves at Nationals Park. “I’m just going to keep playing baseball.”
Last month, general manager Mike Rizzo said on June 1 the Nationals "are not trading Juan Soto." But The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who first reported the news, said this most recent rejection "altered the equation" and led club officials to believe they will not be able to re-sign Soto. He is earning $17.1 million this season in his second year of arbitration.
“For me, this is the team I’ve been [with] since, what, 2015?” Soto said Saturday. “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?”
The proposed extension, which Rosenthal reported did not include any deferred money, would take Soto through his age-38 season and be the richest contract in AL/NL history, topping Mike Trout's $426.5 million contract with the Angels from 2019. However, it would be the 20th-largest contract in baseball history in terms of annual average value.
This is not the first time contract extension talks have been reported in advance of Soto’s free agency. ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reported this past offseason Washington had offered Soto a 13-year deal worth $350 million. While it is not uncommon for star players to be linked in this level of buzz, Soto is experiencing it at 23 years old.
“I'll definitely talk to him and just tell him that sometimes you have to let things play out,” manager Dave Martinez said. “That's why we have agents, right? I mean, they'll handle that kind of business. But I'll tell him … at the end of the day, you're going to get what you deserve, we all know that. And for me, I hope it's here because I love the kid. I don't ever think that he's anything else but a Washington National. And that's the way I'm going to view it right now: he is a Washington National."
Saturday’s news could be landscape-changing in regard to next month’s Trade Deadline. Soto was the runner-up in last season’s NL MVP race. He already has two Silver Sluggers to his name along with the 2020 batting title and a ‘19 World Series championship. He was named to his second consecutive All-Star Game and will be participating again in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby.
“It won’t do any damage to my weekend,” Soto said of his All-Star trip. “I’m going to try to enjoy as much as I can. It feels a little uncomfortable at the beginning, but I will be fine.”
While he started the season slow, Soto is on a hot streak, hitting .417 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in 13 July games. On the year, he’s batting .247 with 19 home runs and 42 RBIs to go along with an MLB-leading 79 walks. His 201 wRC+ since the start of 2020 is the best among all qualified hitters.
Still, the Nationals entered Saturday 30-62 on the season and 1-13 this month amid their current reboot.
“I don’t want to keep losing,” Soto said. “I hate losing. But it is what it is. I mean, at the end of the day, we’ve just got to go through it, because as they [teammates] told me, we’ve all got to go through those moments to win a championship. So for me, I think I’m going through mine and I’m just going to keep positive and keep seeing things forward.”
Soto saw firsthand last season the caliber of moves that can happen at the Trade Deadline. For the next two-plus weeks, he is likely to be at the forefront of these potential blockbuster talks.
“He's a big name,” Martinez said. “Everybody knows who Juan Soto is, not only here in D.C., but everywhere. And it's going to come -- it's the price that you pay when you're as good as he is. But for me, letting him understand that we're here for you, I'll always be there for him and we'll help him go out there and just let him play the game."