The Washington Nationals are resuming play after the All-Star break but the focus around the franchise will remain on star outfielder Juan Soto.
The Nationals open a three-game slate against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday in Phoenix but Soto’s contract situation looms over the downtrodden club like a skyscraper.
Soto’s recent rejection of a 15-year, $440 million extension offer has led the Nationals to entertain trade proposals with the Aug. 2 deadline less than two weeks away.
The drama has included the 23-year-old being miffed that he had to find his own way from Atlanta (where Washington played on Sunday) to Los Angeles for the All-Star Game and its assorted festivities. Soto won the Home Run Derby on Monday night.
He also is upset that word got out about him turning down the largest contract offer dollar-wise in baseball history.
“I try to keep my stuff private and not try to throw stuff out there,” Soto told reporters. “It feels really bad. But at the end of the day, we just have to keep playing. It doesn’t matter what’s happening.
“A couple weeks ago, they were saying they will never trade me. And now all these things come out. You don’t know what to trust.”
Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters that trade speculation comes with the territory.
“He’s got to understand that this is part of the game, right?” Martinez said. “We’ve all been through it at some point in time. But he’s got to go out there and remember why he’s here, and that’s to help us win games and I know he’ll do that.”
Washington owns a major league-worst 31-63 record as play resumes and Soto is batting a career-low .250. That’s 63 points lower than last season and a whopping 101 below 2020 when he won the National League batting title.
Soto has a team-leading 20 homers and ranks third on the club with 43 RBIs.
Arizona resides in last place in the National League West, 21 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Diamondbacks dropped eight of their last 11 games and look destined to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Veteran outfielder David Peralta (12 home runs) or first baseman Christian Walker (team-high 22 homers) could be on the move before the deadline as Arizona focuses on getting younger behind players such as third baseman Josh Rojas (.271) and rookie center fielder Alek Thomas (.250).
“We’re going to see what we can do to make our organization stronger,” Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen told Arizona Sports. “I don’t really know what that’s going to mean. We’re going to have some decisions to make I’m sure.
“I want to see our major league team playing a little bit better coming out of the break. I know it was kind of a rough two-week stretch there where we were competitive almost every single night, we were in almost every single game and we lost six by one run. I’d like to see us try to flip the script on that a little bit coming out of the break here.”
Arizona activated right-handed reliever Ian Kennedy from the 15-day injured list on Thursday and designated left-hander Dallas Keuchel for assignment. Kennedy was sidelined with a small blood clot in his right calf.
The D-backs finally announced right-hander Zac Gallen (4-2, 3.56 ERA) as their starting pitcher for Friday. Gallen has gone without a victory since May, with two losses and six straight no-decisions in his past eight starts after starting 4-0 with a 2.32 ERA in the first two months of the season.
This will be Gallen’s third career start (0-1, 6.43) against Washington, having allowed five runs and seven hits in seven innings with 10 strikeouts.
Among the candidates for Washington is former Diamondbacks left-hander Patrick Corbin (4-12, 5.87). Corbin lost his previous outing to the Atlanta Braves on July 15, allowing six runs (five earned) and nine hits over five innings while striking out eight.
Corbin is 0-1 in two rough starts against Arizona. He has given up 14 runs and 13 hits (including four homers) in 7 1/3 innings against his former club.
The two teams split a four-game series at Washington in April.
–Field Level Media