To simply call it the biggest deal of baseball’s trade deadline is short. With Soto not expected to enter free agency until the 2024 season, the Padres should have the scathing outfielder through three playoff runs, giving them a dazzling roster filled with young stars.
National fans, meanwhile, have to put up with seeing another local cornerstone leave Washington. Bryce Harper, who won an MVP award with the Nationals, left for Philadelphia after the 2018 season. Anthony Rendon, one of the heroes of the World Series, joined the Los Angeles Angels in late 2019. Last summer, the team traded Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
From the records: The Nationals’ deadline fire sale went down in a matter of days. But it was years in the making.
This latest deal, which included Washington first baseman Josh Bell, produced some of the best talent in San Diego’s farm system. But the Nationals already struggling with baseball’s worst recordwill become even less competitive as the summer drags on.
Yes Washington landed a big blow: first baseman/designated hitter 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’s no replacement for Soto and what he’s meant to the organization since debuting at age 19 in 2018. As the Nationals stumble to another last-place finish, they were selling a quick restart around Soto, a once-in-a-generation hitter and one of the few reasons to follow the team this summer.
In recent days, San Diego has been in the mix for Soto with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. But on Tuesday morning, the Padres were clearly in the lead with Soto and Bell on the line as part of a forfeit.
Bell is leaving Washington after less than two seasons, a stretch highlighted by his 2022 career numbers. But Soto’s impending departure is the real punch for the franchise and its fans, coming a year and three days after the Nationals sent Turner and Scherzer to the Dodgers. The Padres will soon travel to Nationals Park for a three-game series that begins August 12.
That ends Soto’s four-year run with the Nationals, the team that signed him as a teenager outside the Dominican Republic in 2015. Soto, who is still only 23 years old, fulfilled this mandate with a World Series ringa 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 Stadiumadding to a resume that should belong to a mid-career star, not someone who can’t rent a car without a miner’s fee.
Soto is so decorated and so young, and he’s following in the statistical footsteps 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 comeback from the Padres. Baseball writers have already had an offseason comparing him to Ted Williamsone of the greatest hitters of all time.
But his consistent dominance is what has complicated his future in Washington. Soto has long been determined to reach free agency after the 2024 season, the only way to see how the free market values him. Still, the Nationals have been pushing to sign him for a long-term extension – a goal that has become even more pressing after the club began rebuilding last summer. ship eight veterans for 12 unproven players.
First there was a 13-year, $350 million contract offer to Soto in November. After that, Washington bumped the numbers up in May, then even more with 15 years and 440 million dollars a month ago. Soto did not accept, believing he was 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, made public with the Nationals’ intention to listen to trade offers for Soto before the deadline.
Without an extension, and with Soto more valuable than he would be in trade talks this winter, the front office has resigned itself to doing what once seemed unthinkable. Treat Juan Soto? Treat the player to some of the greatest hits in club history – the Josh Hader single kicks off in NL wildcard game; the home run that scores the score Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the NL Division Series; imposing shots against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in the World Series – when his best years might be ahead 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, which was one of the few reasons to come to the stadium. Then everything changed when 15 years and $440 million fell flat. Money often has this effect.
Soto’s journey didn’t begin when he made his Nationals Park debut at age 19. It didn’t start at the club’s academy in the Dominican Republic, where he spent 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 little.
For Soto, it all started in a living room in Santo Domingo, with his father throwing bottle caps at him which the little boy slammed against the walls. He wanted to be Manny Ramirez or Robinson Canó. During long days at the playground, he would imitate Canó’s swing uppercut, with the other kids calling him “Little Robbie”. Baseball is a tradition in their common country. So, too, dreams of big league stardom.
These dreams brought Soto to Washington; across America in a Nationals uniform; to the heights of the World Series and the depths of a rebuild. Then they’ll take him to San Diego, where a new fan base will cling to each of his drummers. Soto has always been kind of a blinker and you might miss him. So trading him means DC will miss a lot.
Barry Svrluga contributed to this report, which has been updated.