Juan Soto keeps smiling despite uncertain future with Nationals

LOS ANGELES — For nearly an hour on Monday, as Nationals right fielder Juan Soto perched behind a podium and described what he called a “difficult”, “frustrating”, “really bad” situation that made it difficult to “know who to trust” and caused “a lot tension,” he barely stopped smiling.

It was eight hours before he won the Home Run Derby, beating sailors rookie center fielder Julio Rodríguez with a final round of 19 fingers. Soto first had to deal with his future.

In recent days, since Athleticism reported that Soto had rejected a 15-year, $440 million extension and that Washington would consider trading him, must have been a circus for 23-year-old Soto. But he seems to be making popcorn.

When he arrived eight minutes early for his mandatory press briefing, he smiled at the gathered reporters, then dashed behind the backdrop. “I have to make a phone call,” he said, then, with a theatrical jerk in his voice, he added, “I’m a little nervous.”

Two minutes later, he joked that he too would be recording the press conference, then answered questions. He sounded serious as he addressed the upheaval in his life. Three years after Soto led the Nationals to a surprise World Series title, this is a last-place team whose owners are openly trying to sell them and whose front office can’t make long-term decisions. . And he’s a young man who can’t legally rent a car, navigating it all in his second language, trying to get his job done and not knowing where he’ll be living in two weeks.

“A few weeks ago they were saying they would never trade me, and now all these things are coming out,” Soto said. “It’s really uncomfortable. You don’t know what to trust. But at the end of the day, the decision they make is not in my hands.”

It is true to some extent. He could have accepted the team’s offer. But his agent, Scott Boras, said Monday that his side did not view the proposal — which would have set a record for total dollars but placed Soto just 20th in the sport in average annual value — as genuine.

“The player is fully aware that these things are done to optimize the value of the franchise, are done to show the owner that he has something of great value so that he can optimize his sale, because I don’t think that a player will sign with an owner he doesn’t know,” Boras said.

Soto said the way the talks became public made him reluctant to continue negotiating during the season. Boras said, “We want all of our chats to be private. We now know that they are not. And so I’m sure Juan will take that into consideration as he goes along. He added: “All I know here is that the Atlanta Braves and Juan Soto played a game yesterday. The Atlanta Braves got here five hours earlier than Juan Soto. You know why? Because their team chartered a plane. Juan Soto had to fly on a commercial flight and wait in an airport for two hours and arrive here at 1:30 a.m. and has to compete in the Home Run Derby. And that’s something Major League Baseball didn’t take care of and it’s something the Washington Nationals didn’t take care of. »

(Soto is the Nationals’ only All-Star. A team spokesperson had no comment. Boras said he didn’t charter a plane himself because it would have been a violation of rules governing the behavior of agents.)

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All this would seem to put an end to talk of an extension, at least until winter. And with Soto under the club’s control for the remainder of this season and two more – and as such likely to net the biggest loot in history – Washington can be forgiven for calling.

VERDUCCI: Inside the mind of MLB’s best hitter

So that leaves Soto here, answering questions from friends, reporters and fellow All-Stars. For some people, this might be difficult. But Soto is a showman. Four rounds after Astros Third baseman Alex Bregman hit a home run and carried his bat to first base in Game 6 of the 2019 World Series, Soto did the same. Afterwards he laughed. “That’s really cool. I want to do it too,” Soto said. “That’s what I thought when I saw that. recently eliminated the crotch hold from the dance he does after tight steps, but the gesture remains such a trademark that earlier this month he debuted a necklace with a diamond-encrusted version of himself doing it.

Now he plays for an unimportant team. No one asks for press conferences with him as DC Soto thrives in the spotlight, and Monday was back on him. Asked about his swing, Soto smiled. “I feel surprisinghe said, tracing the word.

He teased reporters. When asked if he liked performing in New York, Soto smiled.

“Play in New York – against the Dishes? I love it,” he said. “I like to hit the ball far. If you see my numbers on this pitch, it’s just amazing.

As for the Bronx? “Play against the Yankees it’s really cool to hear the noise and turn it off,” he said.

He complimented the weather in Southern California, and when someone asked if he was looking forward to playing with Cardinals DH Albert Pujols, who like Soto was born in the Dominican Republic, “for the first and last time,” Soto said, “I don’t know if it will be the last time.”

After he finished, he headed to the field for the team photo. When asked who he called, he laughed. “It’s private!” he said.

Maybe it’s not so bad to have to answer importunate questions. At least people are talking about him.

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