For the record, Juan Soto was in his Nationals uniform, the home whites, when he arrived for Monday’s workout media session at Dodger Stadium.
During the next 40 minutes, nearly every question was some variation of how much longer he'll be wearing it.
With his agent, Scott Boras, standing roughly three feet to his left, baseball’s most coveted trade deadline target smoothly handled the rapid-fire interrogation as easily as batting practice.
For a 23-year-old thrust into this uncomfortable situation on a stage of this magnitude, Soto delivered an MVP-caliber performance. And his ability to do that, in addition to being one of the game’s premier lefthanded sluggers, makes him even more valuable, particularly for the Mets and Yankees.
Yes, Soto was disappointed and frustrated that his rejection of the Nationals’ 15-year, $440 million offer leaked out over the weekend. But you know who was thrilled by the development? The Mets and Yankees, with some of their All-Stars campaigning for their club to make a deal.
That’s how you know Soto is a baseball unicorn. Players usually are more vague when asked about a specific trade at this time of year. Soto? They’re ready to pick him up at LaGuardia.
“He’s a franchise player,” said Edwin Diaz, who made sure to say hello to Soto. “I hope the Mets get a chance to get him.”
While Diaz was dropping not-so-subtle hints to the Mets’ front office, Starling Marte didn’t hesitate to gush about the perennial MVP candidate. When asked about potentially sharing the Flushing outfield with Soto, Marte smiled.
“It would be phenomenal,” he said through an interpreter. “He’s one of those players that you look at and say, ‘Wow, that’s a tremendous ballplayer.’ I’m really proud of the way he’s played in his career, the way he’s acted in his career. He’s one of those guys that doesn’t have any flaws. Phenomenal talent, tremendous person.”
Marte described his maturity as more like a 28-year-old, saying Soto “can control any situation” and “if he’s ever going through a rough patch, he always has a supporter in me.”
Spoken like a future Flushing teammate, no? And Soto returned the favor — sort of — when asked about possibly being traded to New York. “Playing in New York, against the Mets, I love it,” he said with a grin. “You see my numbers at [Citi Field], they’re amazing.”
Soto has destroyed the Mets at Citi, hitting .350 (36-for-103) with 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and a 1.173 OPS in 30 games.
Obviously, he doesn’t get to choose his next destination because he’s under team control through the 2024 season. The Nationals get to pick, and it’s a safe assumption that trading him within the NL East wouldn’t be their first choice. Steve Cohen’s billions can’t do anything about that.
That gives Hal Steinbrenner the edge, and the Yankees have plenty of prospects to swing a deal to put Soto’s lethal lefty bat between the power combo of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Just as general manager Brian Cashman couldn’t resist trading for Stanton when he lost out on Shohei Ohtani, how can the Yankees resist this rare opportunity to get a Soto?
“You know where I really don’t want him going? I don’t want him going up to Boston,” Gerrit Cole said. “If he’s going to go, I want him to come to us. He’s that type of player. He’s going to be a generational great, so whatever organization gets him, if they do indeed trade him, is going to be in a good spot for the next, well, if they can keep him, for the next 10 years.”
With the Yankees currently preoccupied with trying to sign Judge, Steinbrenner doesn’t have to sweat spending a half-billion on Soto for another two years or so. Pairing him with Judge for most of the next decade would be ridiculously expensive, and likely worth every nickel.
“Juan’s a special player,” Judge said. “I would hate to see him go to a team that we have to play down the stretch. It would be fun to see him be in New York or be wherever he wants to be. But he’s definitely a game-changer for sure.”
As for the looming distraction, Soto doesn’t sound fazed in the least. He repeatedly said he’s always wanted to stay with the Nationals, whom he helped win the World Series in 2019. But they’re clearly in a rebuild and the franchise is up for sale.
Shopping a unique talent like Soto with 2 1⁄2 years left before free agency is going to be a daunting task, as Boras emphasized.
“I can only say historically that anyone who trades Juan Soto usually has to say to himself, ‘How do I find a replacement for Juan Soto?’ ” Boras said. “And if that replacement comes in four [players] rather than one and those [players] are at different levels of the game, I wouldn’t want to be the advocate who has to explain the comparability of that because I think it would be an extremely difficult process.”
There are two clubhouses in New York that are all-in for that process to get underway as soon as possible.