Just calling it baseball’s biggest deal by trade deadline falls short. With Soto not getting a free agency until after the 2024 season, the Padres should have the slugging outfielder through three playoff races, leaving them with a dazzling lineup of young stars.
Supporters of the Nationals, meanwhile, have to bear it that a new homegrown cornerstone is leaving 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 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
From the Archives: The deadline for the Nationals fire sale came in a matter of days. But it was years in the making.
This latest deal, with Washington first baseman Josh Bell, produced some of the top talents in San Diego’s farming system. But the Nationals, already saddled with baseball’s worst record, will become even less competitive as the summer continues.
Yes, Washington has made a big jump: first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit, short stop 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’s done for the organization since he debuted at age 19 in 2018. As the Nationals stumbled to a new last place, they had sold a quick restart around Soto, a once-in-a-lifetime aa-generation hitter and one of the few reasons to follow the team this summer.
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For the past few days, San Diego has been in the mix for Soto along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. But Tuesday morning, the Padres were a clear frontrunner with Soto and Bell in the game as a package deal.
Bell is leaving Washington after less than two seasons, a stretch highlighted by his career numbers in 2022. But Soto’s imminent departure is the real blow to the franchise and its fans, a year and three days after the Nationals Turner and Scherzer to the Dodgers. The Padres will soon be visiting Nationals Park for a three-game series beginning August 12.
Svrluga: The deal with Juan Soto is heartbreaking. Now hope can begin.
This puts an end to Soto’s four-year career with the Nationals, the team that brought him out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager in 2015. Silver Slugger awards, two top five places in MVP voting and a few all-star performances. In July, he won the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, adding to a resume that should belong to a mid-career star, not one who can’t rent a car without underage charges.
Soto is just so decorated and so young, and he follows in the stats of all-time players like Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Trout. Soto combines strength and contact ability with otherworldly plate discipline. That’s why he demanded such a large return from the Padres. Baseball writers have once compared him to Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters ever in the off-season.
But his steady dominance is what made his future in Washington difficult. Soto has long been determined to hit free agency after the 2024 season, the only way to see how the open market values him. Still, the Nationals have made an effort to sign him for a long-term extension – a goal that became even more pressing after the club began rebuilding last summer, which saw eight veterans sent out for 12 unproven players.
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First, there was a 13-year $350 million contract offer to Soto in November. Then Washington raised the numbers in May, and then more by 15 years and $440 million a month ago. Soto did not accept it, as he felt 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 — was made public, along with the Nationals’ intentions to listen to trade offers for Soto before the deadline.
With no renewal, and with Soto more valuable than he would be in trade talks over the winter, the front office resigned to do what once seemed unthinkable. Deal Juan Soto? Treat the player to some of the biggest hits in club history – Josh Hader’s lead single in the NL wildcard game; the scoring homer to Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 of the NL Division Series; skyrocketing shots against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in the World Series – while his best years could 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 opportunity to trade 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 that 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 would spend extra hours with Rosetta Stone perfecting his English. It didn’t start when the team first scouted him as a lefthanded pitcher who could hit a little.
For Soto, this all started in a living room in Santo Domingo, where his father threw bottle caps at him which the little boy smashed against the walls. He wanted to be Manny Ramirez or Robinson Canó. In long days on the playground, he mimicked Canó’s uppercut swing while the other kids called him “Little Robbie.” Baseball is tradition in their shared country. So he also dreams of major league stardom.
Those dreams brought Soto to Washington; to America in a Nationals uniform; to the highlights of the World Series and the depths of a rebuild. Then they take him to San Diego, where a new fan base will hang on all his at bats. Soto has always been the kind of player that blinks and you could miss. So swapping him means DC will miss a lot.
Barry Svrluga contributed to this report, which has been updated.