The Nationals, as far as anyone can tell and as the organization’s copious intentional-seeming leaks attest, want to trade Juan Soto. The front office would rather trade away the young two-time all-star than pay him the kind of contract extension that would keep him in D.C. beyond the two years he will remain under the Nats’ control after this one. The Lerner family, who own the team, want to sell it. As the reporting goes, they are wary of what adding a half-billion-dollar commitment to Soto might do to their pursuit of the best possible sale price for the franchise.
Do you hate knowing that? I hate knowing it. The idea of a baseball team trading away Juan Soto is just breathtakingly perverse even before you learn that the reasons have precisely nothing whatsoever to do with baseball. The absolute highest, most desperate, most absurdly optimistic hope for any baseball trade—any draft selection, any free-agent signing, any minor-leaguer promotion—is that it will bring to your team a player of Juan Soto’s quality, an all but perfect hitter of baseballs by the time he turned 23 years old, a charismatic and likable guy with a suite of goofy gestures and mannerisms at the plate, a genuine superstar far better than all but a tiny number of other position players and younger than everybody in that small group. Whatever the priorities or prerogatives are that would make a baseball club want to trade that guy away, they are not legible at all in baseball terms.
An ugly reality bedevils all home-team sports fandom in these latter days. The club, after all, is almost certainly run at its top by bloodless MBA ghouls who regard it as a sales business: Depending on how far out you wish to zoom, you, the fan, are either its target (it wants to sell you something) or its product (it wants to sell your attention to somebody else) or its fear-based pitch (it wants to threaten local politicians with what you will do to them if they do not pay it to stick around). Where your hopes for the team—that it will do well on the field, that it will be easy to like and fun to root for, that it will win—align with those of the people running it, that tends to be a sort of happy accident perhaps best left not too deeply interrogated.
Still, you can enjoy that happy accident where you find it; the Yankees, may they rot in hell, traditionally have operated pretty straightforwardly as a business that sells glamorous, star-studded, World Series-contending baseball in exchange for money, and that works out pretty well for their loathsome fans. That sort of arrangement, or even its chintzier bastardizations, is increasingly difficult to find in Major League Baseball these days. By my informal count, not more than a handful of teams having “winning baseball games” anywhere near the center of their organizational strategies. At least a few of them pretty much openly regard fielding a good baseball team as something that can only happen incidentally, if at all, as an interregnum between bouts of heightened cost-shaving.
Nowhere does this get more deranged and deranging than the Nationals looking to trade Juan Soto away. This is not quite like the usual “Gotta trade the star away before we lose him for nothing” type of deal, dismally familiar from pretty much every major sport. The Nationals can keep Soto for at least two more seasons without doing much of anything. Two seasons! Any sane fan would choose two seasons of watching Juan Soto hit over two seasons of waiting around to find out whether any of the 43 teenagers inevitably acquired in return for him will turn out be even half as good or magnetic as he is now, years and years before the dawn of his prime. Moreover, to the extent the Nationals must choose between trading Soto or losing him for nothing in free agency in 2025, that’s at least in large part attributable to ownership having systematically gutted the big-league squad in the years since it won the World Series in 2019, stranding Soto in hopeless, impoverished lineups any self-respecting player with options would want to leave behind. If trading away Juan Soto even could be the sort of move a club could make in the interest of improving its medium- or long-term baseball results, the Nationals are the very last club anybody could trust to be acting on that motivation; they haven’t done so in years. On top of that, it’s pretty clear the Nationals’ owners don’t even want to keep Soto: Their (leaked) cheap and tortured extension offers scan much more legibly as public-relations stunts to justify their getting rid of him than as anything like sincere good-faith efforts to pay him commensurate with his market value.
Under these conditions, rooting for the Nationals is like rooting for the burglar casing your own house. Your interests do not even accidentally align! They are not reconcilable to each other at all. In fact they are just directly opposed. You, the fan, get less than nothing out of the Nationals accomplishing their organizational goal: You get a baseball team made sharply worse; the knowledge that the entire rest of your lifetime might go by before another accomplished, electrifying young player like Soto comes along for you to cheer and emotionally adopt; and the knowledge that if that player ever does show up, the owners might well regard his excellence as a direct impediment to their aims, and trade him away before he turns 24.
Therefore here is what I recommend, for those who have been Nationals fans before now. Simply become a fan of Juan Soto, the baseball player. When the Nationals trade him—if they even can; he might be too good for that—simply root for whichever team had the good sense to seek Soto, rather than getting rid of him. In 2025, when he very probably winds up as a member of one of those few franchises that want to be glamorous, deep-pocketed destinations for cool, exciting baseball players, that want to do everything they can to make the best possible baseball team year after year, simply root for that team while Juan Soto is on it. Root for it because it wanted Juan Soto, and because for whatever its cold machine reasons it gave its fans something cool to come watch at the ballpark.
This is the only way for you and the object of your fan enthusiasm to have aligning goals: You can be sure, when Juan Soto steps into the batter’s box, no matter what jersey he is wearing or what the hunched inheritor gremlin in the owner’s suite wants, that both you and he want him to barrel up the opposing pitcher’s nastiest pitch and dent the fucking moon with it. You can be sure that you and he want his team to win, and want the players on it to do cool shit and have fun and like each other; you can be sure that you and he both do not want ballplayers’ careers jerked around and fucked up by cheapskate owners who view their roster only in terms of how small a bite it takes out of the TV contract money. You can be sure that you are rooting for a human, and for something human, with human delights and human rewards.
Try it out! I guarantee it will beat the living shit out of rooting for the Nationals.