How the San Diego Padres’ unconventional master plan nabbed Juan Soto, the biggest fish of the trade deadline

THE AUG. 1, the San Diego Padres were 58-46. They had the fifth-best record in the National League but were 12 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team they’ve been trying to catch up with for decades.

These are the Padres: a franchise with only scattered and rare stretches of success throughout its 54-year history, a franchise best known for dubious decision-making (those awful mustard-yellow uniforms from the 1970s, once recruiting Matt Bush over Justin Verlander) than for winning. This is a franchise that was 18 games over .500 last August, only to end the season with a losing record.

And yet, on Aug. 1, the Padres made the first of the trades that would send shock waves through baseball. The deal that day was to acquire All-Star closer Josh Hader. The next day, the team finalized the blockbuster trade to end all blockbusters, bringing Juan Soto and Josh Bell to San Diego, plus a deal for utility vehicle Brandon Drury.

Suddenly, the Padres are better positioned than ever to win a World Series, or at least have their best chance since the Yankees swept them in the 1998 Fall Classic. They can field a fearsome quartet of Soto, Bell, Manny Machado and When he returns to the lineup soon, Fernando Tatis Jr.

“It’s going to be very hard to beat,” Soto said at his introductory news conference on Wednesday. “I wish all the pitchers good luck.”

No, the Padres probably won’t catch up with the Dodgers in the NL West this season. The Dodgers are too far ahead and too good to collapse. But suddenly, Los Angeles’ path to the World Series could go through San Diego, or vice versa. The two teams begin a three-game series Friday night at Dodger Stadium for the first of 12 games remaining between them and then, as currently positioned, the Padres would face the Dodgers in the division series if San Diego bests a best-of-three in the first round, likely against the NL East runner-up.

“It’s an exciting time,” Bell said. “Now is the time for the Padres, so let’s go after him.”

What Fathers get here? At a time when young, local and — key word here — low-cost players are valued more than ever by front offices, the Padres have gone in the opposite direction, emptying out a farm system for proven stars, in Soto’s case. and a few others, verified superstars, in fact.

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