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Juan Soto rejects $440 million offer; Nationals will explore trade

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The Washington Nationals will consider trading Juan Soto this month after he turned down a 15-year, $440 million offer made recently, according to four people with knowledge of the matter. Soto, a 23-year-old superstar, can reach free agency after the 2024 season, meaning the Nationals can keep him through the rest of this season and the two after it. But doubt about retaining him long term has pushed the club at least to field trade offers ahead of the Aug. 2 deadlines.

The Nationals’ most recent offer came near the beginning of July, according to two people familiar with the timing. It does not include payment deferrals, according to two people familiar with the terms, which was also the case with offers to Soto in November and May. Once the Athletic reported the figures and the Nationals’ Intentions Saturday, Soto was frustrated that the situation — and the uncertainty surrounding it — was in public view.

“It feels really bad to see stuff going out like that because I’m a guy who keeps everything on my side. I keep everything quiet,” Soto said before Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, a 6-3 loss that ended after a 109-minute rain delay in the eighth. Soto singled twice and scored on Josh Bell’s triple. But even with five hits between Soto and Bell, the Braves pushed ahead with back-to-back homers from Matt Olson and Austin Riley off Paolo Espino in the third. The Nationals (30-63) have dropped nine in a row, 15 of their past 16 and are 1-14 in July.

“I keep everything quiet and try to keep it just [to] us,” Soto continued. “But they just [made] the decision and do whatever they need to do.”

“When things like that come out that are personal, it bothers people. I’m sure it bothers him a lot,” Manager Dave Martinez said after Soto implied the organization leaked the offer. “But he’s got to understand that this is part of the game, right? We’ve all been through it at some point in time.”

While $440 million would be the biggest contract in the sport’s history by total value, the annual value of $29.3 million would rank 20th. Soto is looking for both double-digit years and an average annual value that is significantly higher, according to multiple people with knowledge of his camp’s thinking. When Trout signed his extension with the Angels in March 2019, he was 27 and set records for total value ($426.5 million) and AAV (about $36 million). Trout remains baseball’s highest-paid position player.

The Nationals are not expected to increase their offer in the near future, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations. Soto’s side has not presented a counter offer, according to three people familiar with the discussions. And another big factor, of course, is the potential change in ownership and whether buyers would rather make their own decisions about trading Soto before his team control runs out or a megadeal is reached.

“I mean, at the end of the day, you’re going to get what you deserve. We all know that,” Martinez said of what he planned to tell Soto. “And for me, I hope it’s here. Because I love the kid. I don’t ever think that he’s anything else but a Washington National.”

Shortly before Soto spoke Saturday, a veteran teammate asked a clubhouse attendant whether there were extra Soto T-shirts to give to his kids. A few hours later, fans in attendance received a Star Wars-themed Soto bobblehead. On Monday, they will participate in the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium. On Tuesday, he will be the only player representing the last-place Nationals in the All-Star Game.

Soto has long been the main attraction here. They would be elsewhere, too. By many measures, he’s one of baseball’s most exciting players, one of its best hitters, and one of the very top candidates to build a franchise around. But since he proved to be a generational talent, the Specter of the open market — and the record of his agent, Scott Boras, taking most clients there — has loomed over any discussions about his future in Washington.

After the Nationals made the 15-year offer, Soto and General Manger Mike Rizzo met at Nationals Park, according to three people who declined to share details of the conversation. This was right before Rizzo and Martinez had exercised their options for next year, alleviating some instability around the team. Otherwise, negotiations with Soto have occurred with the Lerner family Exploring a sale of the club — and through an abysmal first half on the field, which is expected to yield another sell-off at the deadline.

On July 1, Soto was open to further contract discussions, telling The Washington Post he would forgo the chance to become a free agent if the numbers were right. Then on Saturday, at the most somber he has been with reporters, he reiterated those sentiments in a less convincing way. At that moment, ahead of yet another loss, the Nationals were 27 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the National League East (and 14½ behind the fourth-place Miami Marlins). The Braves would soon Crush their 30th and 31st Homers in 12 games against Washington. So fittingly, it also poured.

“For me, this is the team I’ve been [with] since, what, 2015?” Soto said. “I’ve been with this team and I feel good with it. When I get to know the city more, it feels great. Why should I need to change?”

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