By Rowan Kavner
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Cries of “fu-ture Dod-ger” that greeted John Soto in center field at Dodger Stadium during the All-Star Game resumed Monday, with Nationals visiting Los Angeles.
A week ago Soto heard the chorus from the bleachers. He turned and smiled to acknowledge the support. On Monday, cheers came before the coveted trade target tripled and knocked in two runs to snap the Dodgers’ eight-game hitting streak.
Ever since Soto reportedly turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension from the Nationals, trade rumors have swirled around the precocious 23-year-old, two-time All-Star. And as comfortable as Soto has looked on the field facing them, from winning the Home Run Derby last week to delivering a knockout blow to the Dodgers a week later, it’s an unfamiliar situation that the preternatural talent doesn’t had never predicted.
“It was just crazy, things I don’t think would ever happen to me,” Soto told reporters Monday in Los Angeles before the Nationals’ 4-1 victory. “The first time I’m going through it, and it’s been very difficult.”
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Soto was surprised to hear the calls at the All-Star Game, but he loved it, flattered to hear the fans in Los Angeles cheering for him. They, of course, want to root him in a Dodgers jersey. Fans of every contending team, in fact, are hoping Soto wears their uniform soon.
Why wouldn’t they?
At just 23 years old, Soto is already a franchise-changing player. Through his age, Baseball Reference’s closest similarity scores are Mike Trout, Frank Robinson and Bryce Harper. Soto’s career OPS+ (160) ranks higher than that of Hall of Famers such as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio. He is a generational talent whose best years are still ahead of him.
Soto finished each of his first four seasons in the majors with an OPS better than .900 and finished each of the past three years in the top nine in MVP voting. He has done his damage with a sharp eye, recording more walks than strikeouts in the past three seasons while leading the majors in on-base percentage the past two seasons.
“He’s intimidating in the box,” Dodgers All-Star shortstop Tony Gonsolin said of Soto’s three-time receiver on Monday. “He has a very good two-shot approach. He extends, he does everything, he has very good zone control, he never chases.
Maybe soon, Gonsolin won’t have to face Soto in a Washington jersey, though Soto said he still isn’t really thinking about joining another team and will stick with the Nationals as long as they want him. that.
The effort to get such a talent would be monumental. And three postseasons with Soto could count for a contending club.
It’s not often that a player of Soto’s immense talent, under control for as long as he is, is made available. The Nationals are listening to offers, though they are under no pressure to immediately sign Soto. He is not a free agent until after the 2024 season, making the cost to acquire him prohibitive, even for a national team with the worst record in baseball. For the lucky organization, that could mean dealing with five or six prospects or a combination of top prospects and young, controllable, major league-ready players.
In recent years, the Dodgers have demonstrated a willingness to add franchise-changing players at the deadline when the opportunity knocks. In 2017, they added Yu Darvish. A year later, they added Manny Machado. Both additions cost a mix of highly regarded minor leaguers, but the Dodgers reversed both deals while keeping their most prized prospects.
Last year’s trade deadline deal for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner meant parting with more. After three games in the division going into the deadline, the Dodgers dealt away their leadoff prospect (Keibert Ruiz) and offensive prospect (Josiah Gray) along with two other prospects (Gerardo Carrillo and Donovan Casey) to add a the sixth and the seventh. -The star on their 2021 roster. Scherzer was on loan for the year, while Turner is a free agent after this season.
That deal would pale in comparison to the cost of acquiring Soto, who began to understand the business of baseball while watching his teammates leave. In two years, his franchise went from winning a World Series to rebooting.
“It was very difficult, but at the same time, I was happy for them,” Soto said. “They went to a competitive team. They could go all the way and win the World Series. It didn’t happen to either of them, but I’m glad they get to experience the playoffs and all that stuff.”
Soto was there to cheer on his old teammates during the Dodgers’ 2021 wild-card game, sitting behind home plate in a Turner jersey. The two have kept in touch since Turner joined the Dodgers, though Soto said the conversations are more personal than professional.
Turner believes Soto is equipped to handle the stresses of deadline talks, even at his young age.
“He’s been professional every step of the way, since he was 19 years old and got called up,” Turner said. “So I think every year he learns that it’s a business and it gets a little harder. I think he started learning that last year a little bit when everybody got traded and whatnot. But I expect him to be professional and go about his business and be a good person about it, and I think that’s what you’re going to get from him.”
The Dodgers are again among the teams with championship aspirations and — even after their recent recent deals — the rich farm system required to bring in a player of Soto’s stature. They have four prospects ranked in MLB.com’s top 50 in catcher Diego Cartaya, pitcher Bobby Miller, infielder Michael Busch and outfielder Andy Pages.
Of course, acquiring Soto before the Aug. 2 trade deadline could mean parting ways with any or all of them, plus more.
However, manager Dave Roberts isn’t worried the speculation will cause a distraction.
“Fans are going to do what fans are going to do, the media,” Roberts said. “But as far as we’re concerned, it’s out of our control. We’re trying to get it out.”
As the Dodgers saw on Monday, that’s easier said than done.
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. A proud LSU alumnus, he credits his time as a sports writer and editor at The Daily Reveille for preparing him for a career covering the NFL, NBA and MLB. Prior to joining FOX, he served as the Dodgers’ digital and print editor. When he’s not at a stadium or watching sports, Rowan enjoys playing with his dog, hiking, jogging, golfing and reminiscing about the Mavs’ 2011 championship run. You can find him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.
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