WASHINGTON — The cheers were yelled louder. The applause was clapped harder. The exclamation of “We love you, Juan!” following an eighth-inning walk was accentuated.
It remains to be seen if Monday — the last game before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. ET Trade Deadline — was Juan Soto’s final night with the Nationals after five seasons. But if it was his curly “W” finale, there was no question as to the impact he has made in Washington at only 23 years old.
“It means a lot,” Soto said of the ovations following the Nats’ 7-3 series-opening loss to the Mets at Nationals Park. “It kind of feels weird, too, because nothing’s happened yet and we’re just still waiting. It’s kind of cool at the same time, but it’s kind of weird, too.”
Several teams — including the Cardinals, Dodgers and Padres — are reported to still be working on blockbuster-caliber pitches for the coveted star outfielder. Soto has been the focal point of the baseball trade universe since he turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract extension. He does not become a free agent until after the 2024 season.
“For me, I feel good where I’m at,” Soto said when asked what he would like to happen at the Trade Deadline. “I understand it’s a business, and they need to do whatever they need to do. I’m just another player, another employee here, like [Ryan Zimmerman] used to say. I’m just going to be here and give my 100 percent. Whatever happens, I’m going to be good with it.”
While the past few weeks have been centered around numbers and terms, Monday’s atmosphere felt more about sentiment and gratitude — for both player and fans. With all eyes on No. 22, he went 1-for-1 (with a homer off former teammate Max Scherzer) and tallied two runs scored, three walks and a stolen base.
“That shows you I’m controlling what I can control,” Soto said with a smile. “Just going out there, keep playing hard for those fans out there, because I know, like they were saying, they love me. So I’m just going to give them love back.”
When asked about his time with the Nationals, which began when he signed with the organization in 2015, Soto gave kudos to the coaches at all levels within the organization. He noted, “Each and every one of them showed me a new thing in my career, in myself, and I’m glad that they did it.”
And for everything Soto gleaned from others along the way to the big leagues, this season — in which he is batting .246 with 21 home runs and 91 walks — he has gained invaluable self-taught lessons.
“I don’t want to be selfish, but I feel like this has been the worst season I’ve ever had,” Soto said, noting it is the season in which he has learned the most, too. “When you fail, just come back up and keep grinding. It don’t matter what is going on. It don’t matter what is happening, never stop. Just keep going.”
Soto has been tested — to overcome pitchers in the batter’s box and the noise off the field. He has been doing his best to evade the distractions by talking to teammates — including Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz, who are also trade candidates — and looking to the immediate future and the next task at hand.
“For me, it’s always a challenge to face [Jacob] deGrom,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m just not going to think about [the Deadline], just going to come like it’s another day in the schedule.”
While Tuesday is centered around uncertainty, it can’t take away from the undoubted appreciation shown for Soto on Monday.