Juan Soto defeats Julio Rodriguez in the Home Run Derby

LOS ANGELES — It takes remarkable insurance to turn down $440 million. No baseball player has ever earned so much in a single contract....


LOS ANGELES — It takes remarkable insurance to turn down $440 million. No baseball player has ever earned so much in a single contract. Most of us would sign eagerly.

But most of us aren’t major leaguers, and even within that tight community there’s only one Juan Soto. Few people can match his talent, and perhaps none can match his showmanship.

Fans did not vote for Soto to start the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday. Five outfielders finished ahead of him in the ballot, with Ronald Acuña Jr., Mookie Betts and Joc Pederson taking the starting spots. Soto hasn’t quite lived up to his career standards for much of this season, and his team, the Washington Nationals, has the worst record in baseball.

Still, Soto is there, and when Soto shows up at a stadium, remarkable things tend to happen. He found a way to dominate Monday’s All-Star Watch with his shots and lineup — of questions. After spending about an hour in the early afternoon discussing his future with reporters, Soto spent the early evening winning the Home Run Derby.

As a statement of its worth, it was hard to be more emphatic.

“It’s another thing I’m adding to my trophy box, and I’m going to have it there forever,” said Soto, who outlasted Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez in the final after knocking out Cleveland’s José Ramírez. and Albert Pujols of St. Louis. “And I’ll be a Home Run Derby champion forever.”

The Nationals would like to keep Soto in their uniform forever, or at least for the next 15 years. They had hoped to woo him with a more lucrative offer than Mike Trout’s record-breaking $426.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. But it’s all in the perception.

For Soto and his agent, Scott Boras, the most relevant metric is the average annual value of the proposal: $29.3 million, well below Max Scherzer’s record $43.3 million in his 130-year contract. million over three years with the Mets. Soto can’t be a free agent until the end of the 2024 season, so for now he’s waiting — a better offer, maybe, or maybe a trade.

Nationals distributed Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner to the Dodgers last summer, officially signaling a rebuild. The franchise is for sale and would like to build around Soto, who is only 23 years old. But for now, it looks like a Rembrandt at a third-grade art show, a painfully out of place masterpiece.

The Nationals publicly vowed not to trade Soto, but that was before contract talks broke down. Boras made numerous deals with the Nationals, but on Monday he chastised them for putting Soto on a commercial flight to Los Angeles while other teams paid charters. The relationship between the player and the team seems strained, at best.

“Any conversation they have, they’re going to have it with him,” Soto said, referring to Boras. “I’m just going to be here to play baseball. I’m just gonna go to Nationals Park and give my 100 percent every day.

He has his clichés, but otherwise Soto has an aversion to the mundane. He guards the strike zone with such intensity that even taking a throw can be convincing. And no one can match his production: Of the 87 major leaguers to have played 500 games over the past five seasons, Soto ranks first in on-base plus slugging percentage, at .968.

“Competiting against Juan, from the day he came into the big leagues and walked into that Nationals clubhouse on the Show, he’s taken the league by storm,” said Pete Alonso of the Mets, who has lost to Rodríguez in the second round on Monday, ending his two-game derby winning streak.

“I like him personally, but competing against him is not nice, because usually he does what Juan does. He’s a great player and he’s been there for so many years. He’s a player of championship.”

Soto, who helped the Nationals win the 2019 World Series, was hitting .215 as recently as June 25. Since then, he’s been nearly unstoppable – averaging .411 with as many homers as strikeouts (six) and 22 walks. The Home Run Derby should only help.

Last summer in Colorado, Soto ruined the derby debut of Angels Shohei Ohtani, knocking him out in the first round and blasting the longest homer of the night, at 520 feet. By deliberately trying to elevate the ball, Soto said, he unlocked a fly-ball swing that turned him into Ted Williams after the All-Star break, averaging .348, on-base percentage .525 and a hitting percentage of 0.639.

Alonso – perhaps the most enthusiastic participant in the derby’s history – also disputes the theory that the event leads to bad habits.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “I mean, honestly, my second-half performances after doing that were really, really good. Truly stellar. I think, in a way, the derby locks me in and sets me up for the second half.

Soto has nothing to prove to interested teams, but a locked release could only increase his extraordinary commercial value before the August 2 deadline. If the home run derby was any indication, he won’t be distracted at all.

“I’m a lone survivor,” Soto said. “I’ve been through all of these things and I’m still here standing with my head held high all the time. And that shows you that I can go through anything.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Juan Soto defeats Julio Rodriguez in the Home Run Derby
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