By PATRICK STEVENS
WASHINGTON (AP) — Washington Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto expressed irritation Saturday hours after a report he turned down a record contract with the rebuilding club.
The Athletic, citing unidentified sources, reported Soto turned down a $440 million, 15-year contract offer to remain with the Nationals that would have been the most lucrative in baseball history. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout signed a 12-year, $426.5 million deal in 2019.
The Nationals said last month that they would not trade the 23-year-old Soto. But speculation about Soto getting dealt was sure to swell after this report of him turning down a long-term deal.
Soto is a two-time All-Star who finished second in the NL MVP voting last season. He will not be a free agent until after the 2024 season.
“It feels really bad to see stuff going out like that because I’m a guy who, my side, keeps everything quiet and try to keep it to them and me,” Soto said before the Nationals played Atlanta. “They just make the decision and do what they need to do.”
Soto referred questions about his contract to his agent, Scott Boras.
Soto was a key piece of Washington’s championship team in 2019 and turned 21 during the World Series. He won the NL batting title in 2020, led the league on on-base percentage in 2020 and 2021 en route to Silver Slugger awards in both seasons.
He is hitting .249 with 19 homers and 42 RBIs this season and will play in Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Soto has reached base in a career-high 24 consecutive games entering Saturday.
The last-place Nationals began the day at a major league-worst 30-62, a whopping 27 games behind the NL East-leading Mets. Washington was 14 1/2 games in back of fourth-place Miami.
“He’s young,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “I’m sure when things like that come out that are personal, it bothers people. I’m sure it bothers him a lot. But like I said, he’s got to understand that this is part of the game, right? We’ve all been through it at some point in time. But he’s got to go out there and remember why he’s here, and that’s to help us win games and I know he’ll do that.”
Soto is the most high-profile player left on a team that embarked on a rebuild last year. The Lerner family, which owns the Nationals, is also exploring the possibility of selling the team.
Since last year’s trade deadline, when Washington dealt Max Scherzer, Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and others, the Nationals are 48-104.
“I get the taste of winning, so I want to win every year,” Soto said. “I don’t want to keep losing. I hate losing. It is what it is. At the end of the day, we just have to go through it, because as they told me, we all have to go through those moments to win a championship. For me, I think I’m going through mine. I’m just going to keep positive and keep seeing things forward.”
Martinez, Soto’s manager since he reached the majors as a 19-year-old in 2018, said he planned to tell Soto to continue being himself.
“He tells me all the time that he loves the game of baseball and that’s what he plays for,” Martinez said. “Go out there and just play and have fun and don’t worry about what’s going to happen. I mean, at the end of the day, you’re going to get what you deserve, we all know that. And for me, I hope it’s here.”
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