Juan Soto traded to the San Diego Padres; Nationals get a lot of prospects

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The Washington Nationals did what previously seemed unthinkable on Tuesday: They traded Juan Soto.

Soto is 23 years old, one of the best hitters on the planet and was still under the control of the team for more than two seasons. That made Tuesday’s deal with the San Diego Padres almost unprecedented. But after Soto rejected the team’s recent contract offer, a possible $440 million extension, Washington’s front office engineered a trade that rocked Major League Baseball, altered the course of the franchise and rocked a fan base and a city that has lost one star after another. since the Nationals won the 2019 World Series.

Simply calling it the biggest trade deadline deal in baseball is an understatement. With Soto not set to hit free agency until after the 2024 season, the Padres should have the slugging outfielder through three playoff runs, giving them a dazzling lineup filled with young stars.

Nationals supporters, meanwhile, have to put up with seeing yet another homegrown mainstay leave Washington. Bryce Harper, who won an MVP award with the Nationals, left for Philadelphia after the 2018 season. Anthony Rendon, one of the World Series heroes, joined the Los Angeles Angels in late 2019. Last summer, the team traded Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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This latest deal, which included Washington first baseman Josh Bell, produced some of the best talent in the San Diego farm system. But the Nationals, already saddled with the worst record in baseball, will become even less competitive as the summer progresses.

Yes, Washington got some serious haul: first baseman/DH Luke Voit, shortstop CJ Abrams, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana. But there is no replacement for Soto and what he has meant to the organization since he debuted as a 19-year-old in 2018. As the Nationals stumble to another last-place finish, they had been selling a quick restart around Soto, once in one. generation hitter and one of the few reasons to follow the team this summer.

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In recent days, San Diego was in Soto’s mix along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. But by Tuesday morning, the Padres were clear favorites with Soto and Bell in play as a package.

Bell is leaving Washington after less than two seasons, a period highlighted by his career numbers in 2022. But Soto’s pending departure is the real blow to the franchise and its fans, a year and three days after the The Nationals sent Turner and Scherzer to the Dodgers. The Padres will soon visit Nationals Park for a three-game series beginning Aug. 12.

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This ends Soto’s four-year career with the Nationals, the team that signed him as a teenager from the Dominican Republic in 2015. Soto, still just 23, has filled that tenure with a World Series ring. , a National League batting title, two Silver Slugger Awards, two top-five finishes in MVP voting and a pair of breakout appearances. In July, he won the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, adding to a resume that should belong to a mid-career star, not someone who can’t rent a car without paying underage fees.

Soto is so decorated and so young, and he’s tracking the stats of all-time players like Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Trout. Soto combines power and contact ability with an otherworldly plate discipline. That’s why he demanded such a big return from the Padres. Baseball writers once spent an offseason comparing him to Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters of all time.

But his continued dominance is what complicated his future in Washington. Soto has long made it his goal to hit free agency after the 2024 season, the only way to see how the open market values ​​him. Still, though, the Nationals made efforts to sign him to a long-term extension, a goal that became even more pressing after the club began its rebuild last summer, trading eight veterans for 12 untested players.

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First there was a 13-year, $350 million contract offer to Soto in November. After that, Washington upped the numbers in May, and then further with 15 years and $440 million a month ago. Soto declined, feeling he is worth more than an average annual value of $29.3 million. On July 16, that offer, the largest in MLB history by total contract value, was made public and announced along with the Nationals’ intentions to hear trade offers for Soto before the deadline.

Without an extension, and with Soto more valuable than he would be in trade talks through the winter, the front office resigned itself to doing what had previously seemed unthinkable. Treatment Juan Soto? Give the player some of the biggest hits in club history: Josh Hader’s go-ahead single in the NL wild-card game; the go-ahead home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the NL Division Series; towering shots against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in the World Series, while his best years could be in front of him, not behind?

On July 1, in an interview on 106.7 the Fan, General Manager Mike Rizzo was asked about the possibility of trading Soto. He was defiant, saying the Nationals wouldn’t buy their best player, who was one of the few reasons to come to the ballpark. Then everything changed when 15 years and $440 million came crashing down. Money often has that effect.

Soto’s journey didn’t begin when he made his debut at Nationals Park at age 19. He didn’t start out at the club’s academy in the Dominican Republic, where he spent extra hours on Rosetta Stone to perfect his English. He didn’t start when the team first scouted him as a left-handed pitcher who could hit a little.

For Soto, this all began in a living room in Santo Domingo, his father throwing bottle caps at him that the little boy hit against the walls. He wanted to be Manny Ramírez or Robinson Canó. On long days at the playground, he would imitate Cano’s hook punch, the other kids calling him “Little Robbie.” Baseball is tradition in their shared country. So is dreaming of big league stardom.

Those dreams have brought Soto to Washington; to the entire United States in the uniform of the Nationals; to World Series highs and the depths of a rebuild. Next, they’ll take him to San Diego, where a new fan base will cling to each of his at-bats. Soto has always been the kind of player that blinks and you miss it. Trading him, then, means DC will miss out on a lot.

Barry Svrluga contributed to this report, which has been updated.

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