MLB All-Star Game 2022: Juan Soto aims past the Nats in free agency

By Pedro Moura
FOX Sports MLB Writer

LOS ANGELES – As he often does in the batting box, as he has win Monday night’s Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, Juan Soto did the whole performance when he appeared Monday morning at Media Day before the All-Star Game 2022 (8 p.m. ET Tuesday on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

There, the Soto Shuffle described not a celebration of a good swing decision, but a shrewd sidestepping of repeated questions about his future.

The questions were prompted, of course, by last week’s revelation that the Washington Nationals were considering trading Soto after he turned down their offer for a $440 million 15-year extension. How did he feel when he saw The Athletic’s report on the offer? Does Soto want to be traded? Does Soto want to be traded to a specific team or city – say, New York? Does Soto want to wait for free agency?

Of all those, and many more, Soto only really answered two: It “really hurts” to have his private negotiations made public, and, yes, he wants to become a free agent.

His agent, Scott Boras, stood by Soto’s entire 45-minute session, conducted seamlessly in English and Spanish. An employee of Boras Corp. stood next to his boss, interpreting the questions posed to Soto in Spanish and Soto’s responses.

When it was over, Soto grabbed his cardboard nameplate and hoisted it above his head to shield himself from the midday sun.

Boras put his arm around Soto, and Soto returned the favor. The two headed to the outfield of Dodger Stadium together, then separated as Soto headed for the National League clubhouse while Boras went to trap him and position the offer as nothing more than a scheme. The overall dollar value would be the largest in baseball, but the average annual value of $29.3 million would be well below what Boras and Soto are aiming for.

De Soto’s peers were also puzzled for him.

“My first reaction was, whatever you read, that’s not the whole answer,” said Trea Turner, Soto’s All-Star teammate, former teammate and close friend. “You don’t know what the contract looks like or what it wants or any context other than a big number, and people have been too focused on that number.”

Home Run Derby: Juan Soto wins, proves himself on the biggest stage

Home Run Derby: Juan Soto wins, proves himself on the biggest stage

Ben Verlander reacts to Juan Soto’s victory in the 2022 Home Run Derby after recently turning down a $440 million offer from the Washington Nationals.

Given his current situation, Soto holding his own for the free agent market makes more sense than it does for almost any other player. For one, he’s already been guaranteed more than $26 million from the Nationals, and he’s virtually guaranteed an additional $45 million, at least, through arbitration in the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Talented players dedicate their entire bounties to securing the kind of payouts Soto already knows are coming. At 23, he doesn’t need to give up his future to find financial freedom. He already has it.

“Whatever decision he makes, he’ll have a lot of money,” Turner said. “He has to make the decision that’s best for him and his family, and that’s where the context and the information gets lost. You don’t know how the conversations went between them. There’s a lot of information there that people don’t know about, and I think he’s going to make the best decision for himself.”

Plus, the Nationals are for sale. Soto signing now – even more than is the case with most decade-long deals – means stepping into the unknown. Soto didn’t go so far as to say there was no reason for him to do it, but Boras certainly did.

“He was fully aware of what was going to happen and why,” Boras said. “When a team comes in and gives one of the game’s greatest players a [average annual value] who is not even in the top 15, the player is fully aware of that.

“These are things that are done to optimize the value of the franchise. They are done to show the owner that he has something of great value so that he can optimize his sale. I don’t think a player will sign with an owner he doesn’t know.”

Boras indicated that it was not his or Soto’s desire to engage in extension negotiations with the Nationals. They just listened and said no. To hear it, they would have rejected any offer, however lucrative.

Boras also argued that the next owner of the Nationals will want the choice to keep or trade Soto. And whether the current or future owner decides, Boras says he envies them.

“Lucky you can make that decision,” he said.

And luckily for Soto, he’s built such a solid resume that he can aim for more than half a billion dollars. His play, notwithstanding the first half of 2022, has been so exceptional that it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers, Yankees or any team, on two weeks’ notice, meeting the demands of Nationals prospects and guaranteeing to Soto the fortune that would lead him to renounce free will.

Case in point: All-Star right-hander Joe Musgrove said it would be “amazing” if his Padres added Soto in the next two weeks. But in his next breath, he hinted at the record price – in dollars and prospects – they would have to pay.

“I know we have a lot of big contracts there,” Musgrove said. “After seeing him denied $440 million, I don’t know what it will be like if he comes to San Diego.”

No one knows where Soto will play next, if there will even be a next berth, or how much he will earn doing so.

But we know he will continue to play.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for three seasons for The Athletic and, before that, the Angels and Dodgers for five seasons for the Orange County Register and LA Times. Earlier, he covered his alma mater, USC, for The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in suburban southern California. His first book, “How to Beat a Broken Game,” came out this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedramoura.

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