Do teams have obligation to charter private flights for players going to the All-Star Game?


MLB’s second half is officially underway, but Twitter, it seems, has not moved on from what took place earlier this week, when Nationals slugger Juan Soto (the subject of recent trade speculation) made headlines by boarding a commercial flight to Los Angeles for Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. Declining to provide a private charter for their best player would seem to be an obvious snub, particularly after Soto turned down a reported 15-year, $440-million extension last week.

Of course, we should consider the source. In all likelihood, we would have never known about Soto’s travel arrangements if his agent Scott Boras hadn’t shared that information with the media, knowing the Nationals would come off poorly, perceived as cheap and, worst of all, petty. It’s a low blow, but not any worse than what the Nationals did by leaking details of Soto’s offer, portraying him as ungrateful for scoffing at what would have been the largest contract in major-league history. It’s debatable whether the latter tactic was successful with many noting the contract’s unprecedented length and surprisingly low salary ($29.3 million annually) relative to recent deals signed by Anthony Rendon and Corey Seager, both considered lesser talents than Soto.

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Veteran reporter Buster Olney of ESPN didn’t completely absolve the Nationals of blame, but suggested the plane fiasco could have been avoided, arguing that Boras and Soto were both plenty capable of arranging a private flight to Los Angeles for this week’s All-Star festivities.

Contradicting Olney’s claim, Audacy insider Jon Heyman points out that agents aren’t permitted to give their clients gifts over $500, implying Boras would have been in violation of league bylaws if he had paid for Soto’s flight. Heyman also notes the Nationals reached out to the Braves (their opponent last weekend) to see if they could accommodate Soto, but unfortunately their plane was already at capacity.

Paul Blackburn, Oakland’s only All-Star representative, found himself in a similar situation, catching a ride with members of the Astros after the A’s (well-known as penny-pinchers) declined to fly him private. Clearly, there’s not a “one size fits all” approach to shuttling players to and from the All-Star Game. Big spenders like the Red Sox and Yankees can afford to roll out the red carpet for their players, while others see it as a waste of money, not willing to spend a fortune on one player. Former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones recalls footing the bill for three of his five trips to the Mid-Summer Classic, though he also acknowledges he was never in the same stratosphere as Soto, considered by many to be the Ted Williams of his generation.

Olney and Heyman seem to agree that Washington should have gone the extra mile for Soto, though, all things considered, there are worse things than flying commercial. Kylie Jenner received backlash earlier this week with some calling her a “climate criminal” for taking three-minute flights (the equivalent of a 40-minute drive) on her private jet. Soto isn’t exactly slumming it (he’s due a $17.1-million salary this year) and, even if the Nationals can afford to do so (which they absolutely can), flying a single player from D.C. to Los Angeles isn’t a particularly efficient or eco-friendly use of resources.

Maybe it’s a product of our collective boredom, but the Soto discourse has been a fascinating thread to unspool, a wonderfully silly drama to latch onto amid the quietest week on the sports calendar.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images