The Washington Nationals slugger (for now) defeated fellow phenom Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners 19-18 to win the Derby in a week that has seen so much trade speculation and contract discussions.
Soto entered the All-Star break in dramatic fashion, as it was reported Saturday that he had turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, who would start taking trade calls on one of the game's brightest young stars. Soto did his best to deflect the talk during All-Star media availability, with his agent Scott Boras lingering beside him, and did the same as he received the trophy.
“Right now, I don’t even think about it. I think I’m a champion, and I will be a champion for the Nationals,” Soto told ESPN after the win.
Soto hit 53 homers the whole night, though his total was limited by going second each round as the higher seed.
Rodriguez reached the final with a show of force. The phenom unloaded the most homers of any player in the Derby in a single round with 32 in the first round, knocking off old Dodger Stadium friend Corey Seager in the process.
The semifinal was Rodriguez's true moment of arrival, as he took down two-time defending champion Pete Alonso with 31 homers to 23. Rodriguez set a high bar going first, showing off the kind of pull power the Derby often rewards.
"He's an amazing, young, talented player and what he does is just amazing, how many homers he hit in the first round," Soto said. "First of all, he helped me out a little bit because he got tired. But definitely, he's just an amazing player. He can do it all."
Soto's route was less impressive, eking out an 18-17 win over Jose Ramirez then advancing to face one of his idols in Albert Pujols. He beat the Dominican legend 16-15, needing to use much of his bonus time to clear the bar. It was all love at the end of the semifinal, though.
Albert Pujols still delivered the best moment
All it took was one Home Run Derby to show why allowing the MLB commissioner to add an aging legend to the All-Star rosters was very good idea.
Pujols, competing in his fifth Derby, delivered arguably the best moment of the event. Or, rather, every other All-Star did:
Pujols shocked top overall seed Kyle Schwarber 20-19 in a swing-off, the most dramatic round of the night. He would have less luck against Soto, but the cheers of Dodger Stadium as he took down Schwarber was all it took to show the fans appreciated the effort.