The 23-year-old All-Star reportedly flew commercial from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Sunday night, landing early Monday morning, according to Soto’s agent, Scott Boras. The Nationals beat the Braves 7-3 on Sunday afternoon, the day before Soto was due to compete in the Home Run Derby.
While Boras didn’t comment on whether or not Soto and the Nationals ever discussed the logistics of chartering a plane, he drew a clear distinction between Soto’s arrangement of arriving in California with that of six Atlanta Braves All-Stars.
“The Atlanta Braves arrived here five hours earlier than Juan Soto did. You know why? Because their team chartered a plane,” Boras said. “Juan Soto had to fly on a commercial flight and wait in an airport for two hours and get here at 1:30 in the morning. ...That’s something that Major League Baseball did not take care of and that’s something that the Washington Nationals did not take care of.”
The less-than-ideal travel arrangements didn’t prove costly for the outfielder. Soto held off rookie phenom Julio Rodriguez 19-18 in the final round to win the Home Run Derby. He became the second-youngest Derby champion, checking in a day older than Juan Gonzalez when he won in 1993.
Soto joined the Nationals in 2015 as an international free agent and is currently playing his fifth season in the majors. He’s emerged as one of the sports’ next greats, earning back-to-back All-Star nods and leading the league in a number of categories, including walks and on-base percentage.
News broke on Saturday, two days before the Home Run Derby, that Soto had turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract extension by the Nationals. The deal would’ve been the largest contract in MLB history. This offer seemed to be the Nationals’ attempt to sweeten the deal, after Soto previously declined a 13-year, $350 million extension ahead of the lockout.
In the wake of this news, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported that the Nationals were reportedly open to trade conversations.
While the natural assumption is that Soto wants out of D.C., his comments on Monday before the Home Run Derby paint a more complicated picture for the Nationals’ front office.
“A couple weeks ago, they were saying they will never trade me, and now all these things came out,” Soto said. “It feels really uncomfortable. You don’t know what to trust. But at the end of the day, it’s out of my hands of what decision they make.”
The Nationals now have to decide whether they’re going to pony up even more money, risk losing him in free agency in 2024 or trade him in the near future to maximize their return. Whatever direction the two parties head could have significant implications in the NL East for years to come.
Not arranging a chartered plane probably wasn’t the olive branch Soto’s team was looking for.
Soto wasn’t the only All-Star to not receive a chartered plane offer. The Oakland Athletics planned to send star pitcher Paul Blackburn on a commercial flight when the Houston Astros caught wind and offered to scoop the divisional rival en route to Los Angeles.
“It shows within baseball, it’s like a brotherhood,” Blackburn said. “Everyone respects each other …I’m greatly appreciative of their organization.”