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After Turning Down $440 Million, Juan Soto Just Desires to Play

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LOS ANGELES — Before Juan Soto met with reporters on Monday ahead of the 2022 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium the next day, he pulled out his cellphone and made a call. A couple of moments later, his agent, Scott Boras, appeared, also on the phone. With a number of assistants in tow, Boras stood a number of feet away from Soto as he answered questions, a lot of them about his future.

Soto, a 23-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder, is considered one of the most important stars in the game. He’s a two-time All-Star. He won a batting title in 2020 and the World Series in 2019. In five seasons, he has 118 home runs and a .968 on-base plus slugging percentage. Since his rookie season, in 2018, only seven players have gathered more wins above alternative, based on FanGraphs.

The Nationals have tried to sign Soto to a long-term contract extension, but those efforts have proved unsuccessful. The most recent proposal — a 15-year, $440 million extension, which might have been the biggest contract in M.L.B. history — was rejected. Because of this, reports emerged on Saturday that the Nationals would entertain trades for Soto, who reaches free agency in 2025.

How does a franchise properly assess after which acquire the talent needed in exchange for Soto? And, in the primary place, how does a team navigate the treacherous public relations battle of parting ways, either via free agency or a trade, with a preferred young superstar?

“For me now, I’m just concentrating on baseball,” said Soto, who’s hitting .250 with 20 home runs and a .901 O.P.S. “You may’t do anything about it. I even have my hands tied. I’m just going to play as hard as I can and play baseball and ignore anything. I don’t make the choices. They take the choices. In the event that they have the desire to make the choice, I got to simply pack my stuff and go. Now I’m going to maintain playing baseball as hard as I can.”

Soto was clearly peeved that the most recent extension offer became public. He said it was “pretty tough and pretty frustrating because I attempt to keep my stuff private.”

Asked if the Nationals and Soto would proceed discussing an extension, Boras’s answer on Monday was telling. He said, “After we do this stuff, we wish all of our discussions to be private. We now know that they’re not, so I’m sure Juan will take that into advisement as he goes forward.”

In June, Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ longtime general manager, said that the team was “not trading” Soto and “we’ve made it clear to his agent and to the player.” On Monday, Soto said nobody had told him why that had modified, if in any respect.

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

But why would Soto reject such a big sum of money?

“It is a very unique setting,” Boras said before alluding to Alex Rodriguez, the previous star infielder. “I haven’t had a player that’s a superstar since A-Rod who’s going to be a 25-26-year-old free agent. They only don’t come along that usually where you might have that level of performance for his or her teams. They provide clubs a surplus value that could be as much as a billion dollars in performance.”

Boras, who generally prefers that his clients establish their value in free agency slightly than negotiate with only one team, added that baseball is about billions while players are about hundreds of thousands, and that Soto is “at the highest of the food chain.”

There are lots of complicating aspects, though. The Lerners, who own the Nationals, are entertaining offers to sell the team.

Since they won the 2019 World Series, the Nationals haven’t posted a winning season and have an M.L.B.-worst 31-63 record this yr. They’re within the midst of a rebuild and it’s unclear how soon they are going to contend again. And last month, the Nationals exercised the contract options on Rizzo and Manager Dave Martinez, but those extensions are only through the 2023 season.

Soto said he would love to get to know the brand new team owner and see what’s on their mind and the right way to help the team win.

“He’s able where he’s an enormous asset to a serious league franchise and that franchise goes to be sold,” Boras said. “I don’t think anybody desires to work for somebody they don’t know. So it’s sort of a ghost contract. We don’t know who’s going to pay it. Consequently, whenever you’re a player like Juan, you’re a winning player and you desire to make certain there’s rather a lot more things than dollars and cents involved and who you’re going to work for and where you’re going to be for almost all.”

Soto said he had not been eager about playing for an additional team and wanted to say one other title with the Nationals. He called the team’s lack of winning “very frustrating.” He admitted that the negotiations and added attention have weighed on his mind. He also said that he would probably wish to pause in-season discussions because “it’s very hard with all this talk and attempting to make a winning team.”

Soto, who signed with the Nationals out of his native Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old, insisted that his relationship with the team had not modified. Time, though, will tell.

“I’ve been a National since Day 1,” he said. “Why should I would like to vary? I’ve been here my whole life and my profession. I feel great where I’m at.”

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