Sorry Nationals fans, Tuesday wasn’t just a bad dream. Juan Soto is actually a Padre.
Tuesday’s trade was something that Nationals fans have feared for months, as Soto wasn’t just one of the best hitters in the world but also one of the few remaining players from the World Series team in 2019.
No one knows how the trade will play out. On the surface, it feels like a fair deal — Soto, while a generational talent, is just one player, and the Nationals got back five promising prospects in return. The winner of the trade may not be known for over a decade.
General manager Mike Rizzo said after making the trade that it was the pragmatic thing to do, especially after Soto and his agent, Scott Boras, turned down the would-be record-breaking $440 million contract the Nationals offered in July.
The logic behind the trade, though, doesn’t lessen the sting.
“It stinks,” Nationals fan Valerie Barger said before the team’s game against the Mets Wednesday. “I can’t say we didn’t see it coming, but I think we all hoped it wasn’t coming.”
The consensus from Nationals fans at the ballpark Wednesday was that they weren’t surprised. The leak in mid-July that Soto was on the trading block after turning down the mega deal gave fans time to go through the grieving process. For Northern Virginia resident Michael Carter, he reached acceptance pretty quickly.
“I wasn’t surprised about the trade,” said Carter, who sports a 2019 World Series tattoo with the Nationals logo on his left forearm. “I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of what kind of haul we’d get for him.”
The flip side of the deal — Soto and Josh Bell in exchange for six Padres players — is the amount of promising talent the Nationals got in return. Rizzo said he thinks the move will “accelerate” the team’s rebuild, which began last summer with the Trea Turner-Max Scherzer trade to the Dodgers.
The core of the deal was a group of four youngsters: two former top 100 prospects who made their MLB debuts this season in shortstop C.J. Abrams and southpaw MacKenzie Gore; and a pair of current top 100 prospects in outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, both of whom are still in the minors. The team also procured 18-year-old flamethrower Jarlin Susana and veteran first baseman Luke Voit.
Hassell, Wood and Susana now rank as the Nationals’ Nos. 1, 3 and 8 prospects, respectively, on MLB.com. According to FanGraphs, Washington’s farm system went from the 24th-ranked in MLB to eighth after the trade.
“We got a lot of good prospects,” first-year season-ticket holder Tom Raneses said. “At first, I thought management was making a mistake. But now that he’s gone, I’m hoping these select players have more potential in the long run.”
While the trade is what matters, the fulcrum of the Soto dilemma was when he turned down a contract that would have paid him more total dollars than any other player in MLB history. But one of the main reasons Soto and Boras turned down the offer was due to its length. The $440 million price tag is eye-popping. But spread across 15 years, the average annual value is $29.3 million — a figure that wouldn’t put him in the top 15 among active MLB players.
“I don’t think the offer was all that great,” Carter, 29, said. “I expected a super-max deal where he gets the most money of anyone ever. The amount he was getting per year was less than [Mike] Trout, less than other top players in the league.”
Raneses, a 62-year-old D.C. resident, said the move to a contending club like the Padres is what’s best for Soto, a superstar at just 23 years old. He’ll join fellow phenoms Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. in San Diego, making potential playoff runs for each of the next three seasons.
Meanwhile, the Nationals, who already owned the worst record in the majors when they had Soto, are staring down the barrel of a long August and September — and maybe all of 2023 as well. Between losing Soto, uncertainty over ownership and being hamstrung with a Stephen Strasburg contract that is arguably the biggest albatross in baseball, the Nationals are in a precarious position.
But Carter isn’t worried, because the Nationals have been in a similar rebuild in the past — and won a world championship a decade later.
“I’m not super concerned,” he said. “You have to think about where we were back in 2009 and how long it took us to get to the point where we actually won a World Series. I think Rizzo knows what he’s doing.”
For Barger, a 26-year-old D.C. resident, the trade was a tough pill to swallow. But, for her, being a baseball fan is about far more than just one player.
“For as sad as I am, it doesn’t mean I’m not a Nats fan anymore,” she said. “I’m still going to come. At the end of the day, you have to realize this is a business.”