LOS ANGELES — They cheered Juan Soto at Dodger Stadium last night.
And rightly so. The Washington Nationals superstar left fielder won the HR Derby in an impressive fashion.
He beat out Seattle Mariners rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez in the finals to claim the crown. For his efforts, Soto won $1 million. It was only fitting that he be the man of the hour on a beautiful night to see bombs leave the field at Chavez Ravine.
Leading up to the All-Star festivities, it was reported that Soto had turned down a history-making,15-year, $440-million contract extension from the Nationals.
It was the reason many jeered Soto, too. Most rational people watched in disbelief that a 23-year-old player would scoff at a nearly half-billion dollar contract.
It seems obscene, baffling. Maybe “greedy” is a better word.
The Nationals didn’t have to do it. They have contractual control of Soto until after the 2024 season. That’s when Soto would be eligible to become a free agent.
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As the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches, there is talk that Soto could possibly be dealt for a haul. After all, he’s one of baseball’s most talented players. And did I mention he’s only 23?
For sure, the Derby was another feather in the cap of a career that has been stellar from the start. He has a lifetime .293 average with 118 HR in his four and a half-year career.
Soto became the second-youngest to win the HR Derby, only Juan Gonzalez was one day younger when he won the Derby in 1993.
It’s incredible that he would be linked with JuanGon.
Before the 2000 season, Gonzalez turned down a $140 million deal with the Detroit Tigers. He thought he’d get more in free agency. At the time, it would have been the single richest contract in MLB history.
The wheels fell off Gonzalez’s career that season in Detroit. The following year he signed a one-year, $10 million contract with Cleveland. He went on with his career and never came close to the level of money Detroit offered.
It was a mistake that Gonzalez, no doubt, regrets.
Soto betting on himself isn’t the same as Aaron Judge, who turned down the Yankees’ $213-million extension before the season started, betting on himself.
Judge felt he was worth closer to $300 million and decided to bet on himself.
And thus far, he’s bet right. Coming into the Midsummer Classic, Judge led the Majors with 33 homers, and is on pace to hit over 60. And best of all, his Yankees are off to an incredible start, and could set the record for the most wins in the regular season.
But Soto wasn’t offered a deal under the market value for a current superstar.
Earlier this year, he told ESPN that he’d turned down a 13-year, $350 million offer before the offseason lockout.
Soto was named to the NL All-Star team for the second straight season. He entered the game batting a career-low .250 with 20 homers and 43 RBI in 91 games.
They aren’t exactly the numbers warranted backing up the Brinks truck and unloading piles of cash.
But to be fair, he has been impressive from the start of his career. Former MLB manager and current MLB Network analyst Bo Porter calls him the best hitter in the game. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Still, there’s a huge risk when you bet on yourself after being offered the moon and the stars.
Anyway you slice it, $440 million is a lot of loot to balk it. Especially because you don’t know what the future holds. Soto could be seriously hurt. He could fall into a bad slump that would make an owner leery to pay that amount of money.
Most long-term deals don’t work out. Albert Pujols took the extra cash to bolt the Cardinals for the L.A. Angels. Back in 2012, Pujols got a 10-year, $240-million pact. He didn’t live up to it.
The same will probably be the case with Soto.
San Diego Padres superstar Fernando Tatís, Jr. was offered a similar contract as Soto. He grabbed the 14-year, $340 million deal at age 22. It’s the eighth-richest contract in sports history. And since signing that deal, Tatís has been hampered by injuries. That’s the unknown about sports. You just don’t know.
In the end, Soto has the right to do what he believes is best for him and his family.
But if fans want to jeer him for wanting more, being greedy, it’s hard to blame them.