LOS ANGELES — More than 70 of the best baseball players in the world converged at Dodger Stadium on Monday in advance of Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic.
But only one drew a buzz quite like Juan Soto.
The superstar outfielder, who could soon be new teammates with any number of his fellow All-Stars, was the center of attention. With his agent, Scott Boras, standing a few feet away, Soto answered wave after wave of questions about his uncertain future and sudden availability heading into MLB’s Aug. 2 trade deadline after rejecting the Nationals’ 15-year, $440 million extension offer.
The 23-year-old Soto, who is under contract through 2024, insisted he would like to stay with the Nationals, the only team he has ever known since signing with them as an international free agent in 2015. But that decision may not be up to him anymore after he turned down their latest contract offer.
So of course, Soto was asked on Monday about potential landing spots like Los Angeles, San Diego and, naturally, New York.
“Playing in New York against the Mets, I love it,” Soto said. “I love to play against them, hit the ball hard. If you see my numbers at that field, it’s just amazing. Against them, it’s a great feeling.”
In 30 career games at Citi Field, Soto has hit .350 with 10 home runs and has 1.173 OPS. He has haunted Mets pitchers, though they have plenty of company in that regard.
Then there’s the possibility of Soto and his left-handed swing becoming better acquainted with the short porch at Yankee Stadium.
“I’ve never hit the ball over there,” said Soto, who has three home runs in four career games in The Bronx but went opposite-field twice and right-center once. “Playing against the Yankees is really cool, to hear the noise and shut it down.”
Where Soto lands could change the complexion of the playoff race and October baseball — if he is, in fact, traded in the next two weeks — both for the team that gets him and those that will have to figure out how to get him out.
“You know where I really don’t want him going — I don’t want him going up to Boston,” Yankees ace Gerrit Cole said. “But if he’s going to go, I want him to come to us.”
“I would hate to see him go to a team that we gotta play down the stretch,” Yankees star Aaron Judge said. “It’d be fun to see him be in New York or be wherever he wants to be.”
Of course, he would be a good fit on the other side of New York, too.
“It’d be phenomenal,” Mets All-Star Starling Marte said of sharing the outfield with Soto. “He’s one of those guys that doesn’t have any flaws.”
“I hope we can get the chance to have him on our team,” Mets All-Star closer Edwin Diaz said.
The Yankees and Mets in attendance were not the only ones talking about the potential of adding the generational talent to their lineup — Manny Machado, for example, said he hoped Soto would soon be wearing a Padres uniform — even if Soto himself wasn’t thrilled about the extension talks and trade possibility becoming public.
“A couple weeks ago, they were saying they would never trade me,” Soto said. “Now all these things have come out. It feels really uncomfortable. You don’t know what to trust. But at the end of the day, it’s out of my hands what decision they make.”
The Nationals could still throw a wrench into any potential plans and not deal him before the trade deadline. But at least for one day, Soto’s fellow All-Stars allowed themselves to dream a little.
“I can only say historically, that anyone who trades Juan Soto usually has to say to himself, ‘How do I find a replacement for Juan Soto?’ Boras said. “If that replacement comes in four pods, rather than one, and those pods are at different levels of the game — I wouldn’t want to be the one that’s the advocate that has to explain the comparability of that.
“I think it would be an extremely difficult process, knowing the person who receives Juan is getting the immediate benefit of a player that is extraordinary and in his prime.”