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The conventional wisdom about Tuesday’s trade is that the Nationals deservedly got a haul in exchange for Juan Soto.
That doesn’t mean the deal with the Padres has been without criticism. Trading a 23-year-old superstar who is arguably the best hitter in baseball is a controversial decision. And the ramifications — or benefits — of the trade won’t be evident for years to come.
The number of prospects that Washington got back for Soto (and Josh Bell) is virtually unprecedented in MLB history. It will either be used as a model for rebuilding clubs moving forward, or as an example of the downsides to trading away a player of Soto’s caliber.
But the question remains: Did the Nationals get enough in return for Soto?
Well, at least two general managers think so.
The first, of course, is Washington’s Mike Rizzo, who said after the deal that it will “accelerate” the Nationals’ rebuild. Getting five youngsters — four of whom are either current or former top 100 prospects — is no small feat. If just a few of those players end up becoming valuable big leaguers, the trade could end up being a win for the Nationals.
“We had to get the right deal, or we weren’t going to do the deal,” Rizzo told reporters after the trade. “We set the bar very, very high, and one team exceeded it and that’s the deal we made. Props to the San Diego Padres. … They were aggressive, and we made a deal that you call historical.”
The other executive who thought the Nationals got a fair return is San Diego’s A.J. Preller, whose reputation as being a gutsy dealmaker was augmented when he shipped off shortstop C.J. Abrams, southpaw MacKenzie Gore, right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana and outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood. Veteran first baseman Luke Voit was also sent to D.C. in a swap for Bell, who is having a career year ahead of hitting free agency this winter.
“It’s one of the biggest trades in baseball history,” Preller said. “[The Nationals] did a great job getting players that are gonna help their organization. … Unfortunately, they’re probably going to hit on the guys that they need to hit on to make this type of deal.”
Even the biggest names in sports media — some of whom were critical of the Nationals for not offering Soto more money and for considering trading him at all — were impressed by the young talent Rizzo procured.
Abrams and Gore both made their MLB debuts this season, while Hassell, Wood and Susana are now ranked as the Nationals’ Nos. 1, 4 and 8 prospects, respectively. Washington’s farm system — once a massive hurdle for Rizzo to climb during the rebuild — went from being in the bottom 10 of the league to the top 10 thanks to the trade.
“I think you can make a case this is the biggest trade in baseball history,” Tim Kurkjian said on ESPN. “We are talking about a 23-year-old player with a track record like this and a future that is limitless. And Josh Bell goes in this deal, and the Nationals have five young kids who have a chance to be really good. This isn’t Babe Ruth to the Yankees, which was a sale not a trade. When you start looking at talent involved in one trade and a generational player dealt at age 23, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen this before.”
The shock value of the trade — even though it seemed inevitable for weeks leading up to the deadline after Soto turned down a $440 million contract offer from the Nationals — is why Soto himself didn’t even think he would be traded.
“I never thought they would do it,” Soto told the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes in San Diego’s clubhouse Wednesday. “I was thinking they would try to keep me and try to rebuild the team with me in it. It caught me by surprise. Deep in my heart, I was thinking they wouldn’t do it.”
In his first game as a Padre, Soto led San Diego to its fifth straight win, going 1-for-3 with two walks and a run scored out of the No. 2 hole. Bell went 0-for-2 with two walks and two runs out of the cleanup spot.
Meanwhile, the new Nationals have been trickled throughout the system.
Voit and Gore joined the big league club in Philadelphia Thursday. Manager Dave Martinez said Voit, 31, will slot in at first base and designated hitter. But Gore, 23, won’t be on the field for at least a few weeks, as he was placed on the 15-day injured list with elbow inflammation shortly before the deadline.
“I don’t want to rush him in any way,” Martinez told reporters Wednesday. “I watched a lot of video of him, and he’s a good one. He’s going to help us.”
Abrams, 21, could be called up to the show soon, but the Nationals first want him to get his bearings with Triple-A Rochester. Hassell, 20, was sent to High-A Wilmington, while Wood, 19, is reporting to Single-A Fredericksburg. Susana, 18, will start with Washington’s rookie ball team in West Palm Beach, Florida.
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at [email protected].
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