On Friday afternoon, ahead of a series opener with the Miami Marlins, Juan Soto sat in the back of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, scrolling on his iPhone. A gold plate above his locker says “Employee No. 11.” It is, of course, where Ryan Zimmerman used to be, meaning the wooden stall is a little bit more than just a wooden stall.
But whether Soto will spend his entire career in Washington, as Zimmerman did, remains an open question. And after reports of a recent offer from the Nationals surfaced Thursday, Soto discussed his future and ongoing negotiations with the team with The Washington Post. He started by saying he had nothing to share, cracking a grin. Then he shared.
Earlier this season, the Nationals made an offer above the 13 years and $350 million they dangled to Soto last fall, according to three people with knowledge of the situation. The 23-year-old declined it but is open to further discussions, adding the Nationals can contact Scott Boras, his agent, “every day if they want.”
“We’re going back and forth, and I feel good about that,” said Soto, an all-star for the first time last season. “They are talking to my agent, and I have nothing to do with it. He is just talking to them, and I want to play baseball.”
He has no role in the negotiations?
“Well, no, I do,” Soto answered. “I mean, at the end of the day, I will make decisions. But first things first, they have to negotiate with Scott. For the most part, I want to be far from it because I want to concentrate on the game and not see my performance go down. I really just want to concentrate on baseball.”
Does he feel discussions of a long-term contract have distracted him?
“I mean … we’re human. It’s going to be a little bit on your mind,” said Soto, who entered Friday with a .224 batting average, .375 on-base percentage and .437 slugging percentage — all career lows. “But it’s not the reason that I’m struggling at all.”
Soto has expressed an interest in testing free agency when he is eligible after the 2024 season, making it seem hard for the Nationals to lock him up before then. Has that changed?
“Everybody wants to go to free agency and see how the market is going to be for them,” he said. “But for me, I really don’t know if I want to go there or if I want to stay here. I feel really good here. We’ll see what’s going to happen. For me, right now, the plan that we always have is go year by year. But you don’t know what the future has for you.”
So under the right terms, he would consider an extension before free agency?
“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head. “Why not?”
And how does he feel about where the team is, especially after he expressed some frustration with its direction last August?
“I’m glad that a lot of my teammates are doing pretty well. That’s a good sign,” Soto said. “It’s good, but it’s also kind of sad because you know that most of them are going to get traded at the deadline. But I’m happy for them. I mean, they are going to get traded to good teams, and I hope that is going to make the Nationals better in the future. So for me, I’m glad they’re doing well and that I can be here to keep making this team grow and grow.”
Is it tough knowing a sell-off could very well happen for a second straight summer?
“This year, we’ve been hearing a bunch of stuff, that guys are getting traded, that the team is getting sold, that kind of stuff,” he said, alluding to the uncertainty of the team’s ownership situation. “In the long run, things might change for the good. I mean, I can’t really tell you how I feel. It does feel weird because I went through this last year, and it was kind of tough. But we did get some pieces, Josiah [Gray] and Keibert [Ruiz], who are helping already. We’ll see what happens in the next couple years.”
Does he expect to talk with the Nationals again soon about a possible extension?
“Whenever they want to talk, they can talk with Scott,” Soto said. “I mean, they have the numbers, they can call every day, they can negotiate with him every day if they want, and I won’t have a problem with that. I will be playing, and he’s going to let me know when they’re talking to each other. That’s it.”
“I feel great. … You’ll see. My swing is feeling better. My timing is feeling better. Whenever I hit a ball to the left-center gap, you can be 100 percent sure things are going to be better,” Soto said. “That’s going to be really soon. That’s a good thing you can put out there: Things are going to change.”