Calling it the biggest deal of this year’s trade deadline falls short. With Soto under team control through the 2024 season, the Padres could have him for three playoff races, giving them a lineup built around Soto, Fernando Tatís Jr., Manny Machado and first baseman Josh Bell, whom the Nationals packaged with Soto in the move .
DC, meanwhile, is left to watch another homegrown cornerstone leave the club. Bryce Harper, who once 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 shortly after that title run. And last summer, the team sent Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers, starting a rebuild that General Manager Mike Rizzo believes took a step forward Tuesday.
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Yes, trading Soto and Bell landed a major haul: shortstop CJ Abrams, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, first baseman / designated hitter Luke Voit and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana. But there is no replacing Soto or what he’s meant to the organization since debuting at 19 years old in 2018. As the Nationals stumbled toward another last-place finish, they were selling a quick reboot around Soto, a once-in-a-generation player and one of the few reasons to watch this summer.
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Without him, though, the Nationals are banking on the development of unproven yet highly touted players. Such is the reality on their end of the blockbuster deal.
In recent days, San Diego was in the mix for Soto along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. But by Tuesday morning, the Padres were a clear front-runner with Soto and Bell in play as a package deal.
Svrluga: The Juan Soto deal is heartbreaking. Now the hope can begin.
This ends Soto’s four-year run with the Nationals, the team that signed him as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. Soto has packed 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 all-star appearances. In July, he won the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, adding to a résumé that he should belong to a midcareer star, not someone who can’t rent a car without underage fees.
Soto is just so decorated and so young, and he’s following the statistical tracks of all-time players such as Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Trout. Soto pairs power and contact ability with otherworldly plate discipline. That’s why he demanded such a large return from the Padres. Baseball writers once spent an offseason comparing him to Ted Williams, one of the best hitters ever.
But his steady dominance is what complicated his future in Washington. For a long while now, Soto has been set on reaching 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, shipping out eight veterans for 12 unproven players.
MLB trade deadline tracker
First there was a 13-year, $ 350 million contract offer to Soto in November. After that, Washington upped the figures in May, then even more with 15 years and $ 440 million a month ago. Soto didn’t accept, 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 – became public, was publicized along with the Nationals’ intentions to listen to trade offers for Soto before the deadline.
Without an extension, and with Soto more valuable that he would be in trade talks over the winter, the front office was resigned to do what once seemed unthinkable. Deal Juan Soto? Deal the player with some of biggest hits in club history – the go-ahead single off Josh Hader in the NL wild-card game; the score-knotting homer 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 di lui could be in front of him, not behind?
On July 1, in an interview on 106.7 the Fan, Rizzo was asked about the possibility of trading Soto. He was defiant, saying the Nationals would not shop their best player, who was one of the few reasons to come to the ballpark. Then everything changed when 15 years and $ 440 million fell flat. Money often has that effect.
Soto’s journey didn’t start when he debuted at Nationals Park at 19. It didn’t start at the club’s academy in the Dominican Republic, where he would spend extra hours on Rosetta Stone to perfect his English. It didn’t start when the team first scouted him as a left-handed pitcher who could hit a bit.
For Soto, all of this began in a living room in Santo Domingo, his dad tossing him bottle caps that the small boy smacked against the walls. He wanted to be Manny Ramirez or Robinson Canó. In long days at the playground, he mimicked Canó’s uppercut swing, the other kids calling him “Little Robbie.” Baseball is tradition in their shared country. So, too, is dreaming of major league stardom.
Those dreams have taken Soto to Washington; to around America in a Nationals uniform; to the highs of the World Series and the depths of a rebuild. Next, they will take him to San Diego, where a new fan base will hang on every one of his at-bats. Soto has always been a blink-and-you-might-miss-it sort of player. Trading him, then, means DC will miss a lot.
Barry Svrluga contributed to this report, which has been updated.