Sunday, August 14, 2022

Juan Soto opens up about ‘tough week’ after Dodgers fans serenade Nationals star amid trade rumors

The 2022 MLB trade deadline is one week away and, hands down, the biggest name on the market is Washington Nationals star Juan Soto. The 23-year-old rejected a $440 million contract extension recently and the Nationals are now entertaining trade offers. The St. Louis Cardinals are seen as a frontrunner, though many more teams are interested and have the pieces to get a deal done.

Monday night Soto and the last-place Nationals opened a three-game series at Dodger Stadium, where Soto won the Home Run Derby last week (he left his trophy behind in the visitor’s clubhouse so he could pick it up this week). Soto helped Washington upset the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers with a two-run triple to break the game open (WAS 4, LA 1).

The Dodgers rarely pass up elite talent — this is the team that brought in Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Max Scherzer, and Trea Turner within the last two-and-a-half years — and they’ve of course been mentioned as a potential Soto destination. The Dodger Stadium crowd cheered Soto during pregame introductions and chanted “Future Dodger!” during his first at-bat. 

“I never think about it because I never see myself in any of that. I’ve always been loyal to the Nationals, I’ve always been there for them. Everywhere I’m going, they try to pull me out of my team,” Soto told reporters after the game, including the Washington Post, when asked whether playing for the Dodgers has crossed his mind. “… It’s been a tough week. And to get to see if I’m going to stay there or if I’m going, it’s going to really flush my mind.”

Even after trading several top prospects to get Betts, Scherzer, and Turner, the Dodgers appear to have enough in the farm system (not mention enough young MLB players, like Gavin Lux) to swing a Soto trade. Whether they’re willing to outbid other teams, and perhaps take on Patrick Corbin’s bad contract, to get a deal done is another matter.

Soto won’t become a free agent until after the 2024 season, but the sooner the Nationals trade him, the more they can get in return. Right now his new team would get him for three postseason runs. Wait until the offseason to trade him, and it’s only two postseason runs. The last player this good and this young to get traded was Miguel Cabrera in Dec. 2007.

In what can plausibly be considered a down year for Soto, the 2021 NL MVP runner-up is hitting .248/.404/.491 with 20 home runs and an MLB-best 83 walks. He’s struck out only 59 times. Only noted hacker Javier Báez has seen a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone than Soto this year. Given the lineup around him, it is no surprise teams are refusing to pitch to him.

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