While he almost certainly wasn’t flying in coach, the Washington Nationals didn’t exactly role out the red carpet for Juan Soto as he left to compete in the Home Run Derby and be their lone representative in the All-Star Game.
Scott Boras, Soto’s agent, told Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated that the Nationals had the face of their franchise take a commercial flight to Los Angeles, rather than chartering a private flight for him:
Soto said that the way the talks had become public had made him reluctant to continue negotiating during the season. Boras said, “We want all of our discussions to be private. We now know they’re not. And so I’m sure Juan will take that under advisement as he goes forward.” He added, “All I know here is that the Atlanta Braves and Juan Soto played a game yesterday. The Atlanta Braves arrived here five hours earlier than Juan Soto did. You know why? Because their team chartered a plane. Juan Soto had to fly on a commercial flight and wait in an airport for two hours and get here at 1:30 in the morning and have to compete in the Home Run Derby. And that’s something that Major League Baseball did not take care of and that’s something that the Washington Nationals did not take care of.”
Is this retribution for Soto declining a 15-year/$440 million extension offer? Almost certainly not, especially since the team probably doesn’t want to altogether close the door on potentially reaching a long-term deal with the 23-year-old. The reality is that while it is a very first-world problem to complain about having to fly commercial, this is one of the five best players in the sport. The Nationals likely were more worried about their pocketbooks than their carbon footprint when they decided not to charter a flight for the only player on their team headed to the midsummer classic, instead having him go to the airport. Frankly, this comes down to cheapness more than anything.
The Nationals aren’t the only team that pinched pennies on their lone All-Star. The Oakland Athletics were going to have their only representative — RHP Paul Blackburn — fly commercial to Los Angeles from Houston, where the team finished up their first half slate. Instead, Blackburn flew to California with the Houston Astros on their private jet. It’s a bad look in both cases, but the Nationals are a lot more of a surprise than the A’s. And respectfully, Soto and Blackburn are in different stratospheres in terms of what they have accomplished and will accomplish in the sport.
And even if the Nationals had planned to have Soto — or whoever their All-Star representative ended up being — fly commercial before he rejected their extension offer, the optics of the whole situation look especially poor on the Nationals end given the uncertain future of one of the team’s first World Series heroes.
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