Gamers like Juan Soto don’t get traded. Why would they? A 23-year-old with a stat line that stands subsequent to these of the all-time greats of the sport is the sort of participant you dream about stumbling into. They’re capturing stars, once-in-a-lifetime phenoms. All you must do is hitch your wagon to their meteoric ascent and benefit from the journey.
The Nationals, although, didn’t really feel that means. Within the depths of a crushing teardown that has seen them fall from 2019 World Sequence champion to worst within the majors this season, the Nationals had nothing round Soto to make the group aggressive. Soto was a mint Ferrari within the storage of a one-room shack. They offered him a 15-year contract extension value $440 million this season, however he turned it down, both holding out for extra money in free company or hesitant to enroll in 15 extra years with a currently-bad group that has an unsure future because of a pending sale.
Let’s simply name it that: because of their very own rebuilding plans and potential organizational adjustments, the Nationals determined they might neither compete within the quick future with Soto nor retain him past the 2024 season. I don’t actually consider that to be true – I believe they might have labored one thing out if they’d actually put their thoughts to it and dedicated to creating Soto the centerpiece of their subsequent aggressive group – however that’s a dialogue for one more time. In case you decide that your choices are to commerce him or let him stroll after 2024, buying and selling him is the lesser of two evils.
That trade came to fruition today after weeks of negotiations. Soto and Josh Bell are actually San Diego Padres. To safe their companies, the Padres despatched again maybe the richest haul of younger expertise traded this century: C.J. Abrams, MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, and Jarlin Susana, along with first baseman Luke Voit. In a associated transfer, San Diego dealt Eric Hosmer to Boston (after he exercised his restricted no-trade rights to scotch his involvement on this deal), opening a spot for Bell within the lineup.
In case you stopped following prospects precisely two years in the past, you’d assume Gore was the no-doubt headliner of the deal. He topped out at second general on our Top 100 in 2020 after coming into that season ranked third, however that was earlier than mysterious mechanical points clouded his future. He’s been extra common than thrilling in his main league debut because of intermittent management lapses, however the upside is actually there; when he’s at his greatest, he seems to be like one of many prime younger starters in baseball, with an explosive fastball that performs higher than its already-impressive velocity and two breaking balls that will be elite if he may command them higher. At present on the IL with elbow irritation, he’s a fixer-upper of types, however a luxurious one, a mansion in want of reworking and a brand new groundskeeper.
Abrams isn’t far behind in relation to pedigree. A rangy center infielder with nice bat-to-ball expertise and projectable energy, we at the moment take into account him the 11th-best prospect in the game, a 60 FV. In his report on the Padres system, Eric Longenhagen puzzled if Abrams would possibly transfer to heart discipline sooner or later, however was wowed nonetheless, saying “no matter the place he finally ends up, it’s a digital lock to be an up-the-middle place, the place Abrams’ contact means must be sufficient for him to be a great on a regular basis participant, whereas his looming energy is what may make him an enormous star.” Nonetheless solely 21, he’s struggled within the large leagues thus far this yr, however he has proven spectacular flashes whereas doing so. And simply attending to Petco Park this shortly is spectacular: Due to a 2020 misplaced to the pandemic and a fractured leg/sprained MCL mixture in ’21, Abrams has performed in only a few video games as an expert. Merely being within the majors could be unimaginable for many gamers of his age and expertise.
I received’t linger too lengthy on Hassell, Wooden, and Susana as a result of Eric may have a extra in-depth take a look at the prospects concerned within the deal a bit of later. Suffice it to say that they’re way over chopped liver. Hassell checks in at forty first on our up to date High 100 prospects listing (50 FV), with spectacular bat-to-ball expertise, nascent energy, and sufficient velocity that he would possibly have the ability to stick in heart discipline. He’s torching the Midwest League at age 20, practically two and a half years youthful than the common participant there. Wooden (50 FV, 66th general) is one more heart discipline prospect, however one with much more uncooked energy; he’s 6-foot-7 and is working an OPS above 1.000 within the offense-friendly Cal League earlier than his twentieth birthday. Dan Szymborski DM’ed me to drool about Wooden’s potential, and belief me, he doesn’t try this about each prospect within the recreation. We’re slotting Susana in because the Tenth-best prospect (40+ FV) in DC, however solely as a result of Abrams, Hassell, and Wooden are all forward of him.
Right here’s the best means to think about this: yesterday, the Nationals had the Twenty fourth-best farm system in baseball based mostly on our rankings. At this time, because of this commerce, they’ve leapfrogged to eighth. Per Craig Edwards’ research, the Nationals can count on roughly the identical quantity of organizational worth from the prospects they acquired at present as they’ll from their complete system as of yesterday. That doesn’t even rely Gore, who has already exhausted prospect eligibility (Abrams ought to graduate quickly, too). Make no mistake: this was a treasure trove of a return, extra glitzy prospects than have ever been exchanged in-season. It may get even higher than that; Voit received’t be a free agent till after the 2024 season, and whereas his inventory is down after two seasons the place he’s been extra common than distinctive, the Nationals would discover a number of bidders in the event that they determined to flip him for a prospect.
If I have been the Padres, I’d be glad to make this commerce anyway. Once more, have you ever heard of Juan Soto? He’s a profession .291/.427/.538 hitter. Since he debuted, he’s second solely to Mike Trout in on-base share, and his 155 wRC+ is fourth within the league, behind Trout, Yordan Alvarez, and Aaron Judge. His .408 OBP this season is third in baseball and likewise 63 factors decrease than what he produced in 2020 and ’21.
He’s hardly gotten something to hit this yr, which explains why he’s strolling 20.9% of the time whereas putting out solely 14.2% of the time. His plate self-discipline and understanding of the strike zone are unparalleled; you possibly can’t make him chase, and he additionally makes an above-average quantity of contact within the zone, which ends up in the sorts of swinging strike charges you’d count on from slap-hitting, contact-crazed shortstops reasonably than slugging MVP contenders.
Oh yeah, Soto slugs. He received the Residence Run Derby this yr, recorded the best bat velocity in that bopper-packed occasion (which we all know because of new Statcast cameras), and persistently data elite exit velocities and barrel charges. He’s having a down yr any means you slice it and he’s nonetheless posting a 151 wRC+ with much more walks than strikeouts regardless of meaningfully underperforming his batted ball metrics.
It’s loopy to say this a few group with Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., however Soto now tasks to be their greatest participant. He’s posting a greater batting line than Machado even in considered one of Machado’s greatest years with the bat and can also be a whopping six years youthful. He’s older than Tatis (although solely barely), and every of them possess otherworldly expertise, however Soto is remarkably sturdy, whereas Tatis has missed big swaths of time in three of his 4 main league seasons. They’re a star-studded prime trio, however I really feel comfy saying that Soto is the very best of an enviable group.
Not that it issues with somebody so good that you just’d discover a solution to play him it doesn’t matter what, however Soto even fills a positional want for the Padres. Their infield is phenomenal – and simply obtained a lift by bringing Bell into the fold at first base – however their outfield is piecemeal. Nomar Mazara and Wil Myers are at the moment holding down proper discipline, they usually’ve mixed for an 84 wRC+, primarily a replacement-level platoon. Getting any proper fielder would have been an improve, by no means thoughts getting Soto.
In case you’re purchasing with the Nationals, you would possibly as effectively add Bell to your cart, and the Padres did simply that. A free agent after this season, Bell is within the midst of a profession yr. He’s making extra contact than he ever has whereas displaying above-average energy when he does join. It’s been extra doubles than homers, but it surely nonetheless works out to a .301/.384/.493 line, and even when you assume his common is due for a decline, the on-base expertise and energy make him an offensive power.
That’s particularly the case once you evaluate him to Hosmer, who has pale laborious after a sterling begin to the season. He’s posted a .224/.287/.339 line because the begin of June; if it hadn’t been for a 200 wRC+ explosion in April, he’d be a whole offensive black gap (81 wRC+ since Might 1). That’s an unfair solution to slice up samples, however if you would like an enormous pattern, how concerning the final 4 years? That comes out to .270/.326/.417, mainly a league common bat, and 0.8 WAR in three full seasons’ value of plate appearances. Bell has tripled that WAR this yr alone.
The Padres have performed at a .558 clip thus far this yr, however they’ve outperformed their run differential and BaseRuns expectations, each of which peg them as extra of a .530 group. Now, they need to be markedly higher than that the remainder of the way in which. Soto and Bell will instantly make their lineup each deep and star-studded, and Tatis is sort of prepared to start a rehab task, which might additional put them excessive. They’ve been a mean lineup on the yr, however that’s with lackluster offense from first base and a black gap in proper discipline. That’s additionally with a parade of backups and glove-first utility males taking part in shortstop.
The Padres now boast the very best proper fielder in baseball (Decide is a middle fielder lately, and I’d take Soto over him for the remainder of the yr anyway). In just a few weeks, they may have the very best shortstop too. Bell upgrades first base from squarely beneath common to prime 10. If Tatis returns at full energy this yr, I peg them because the second-best offense within the NL, behind the Dodgers and narrowly forward of the Mets and Braves. Mixed with a pitching employees that goes 5 starters deep and a bullpen topped by Josh Hader, that makes the Padres a playoff group that nobody desires to face.
That’s for this season, after all. The long run is murky in San Diego, notably now that they’ve pushed their chips in to focus on the close to time period. Subsequent season will nonetheless be a star-studded affair; a Tatis/Machado/Soto offensive triumvirate with helpful auxiliaries like Jake Cronenworth ought to create a superb offense, and the latest Joe Musgrove extension means he, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell will prime the pitching employees. The departures begin after that; Darvish and Snell will attain free company after the 2023 season, as will Hader. Soto will attain free company after the 2024 season.
The Padres could possibly be hoping to signal Soto to a market-price extension and construct their future round three transcendent stars. They is also promoting out for the subsequent three years; their expertise acquisition spree over the previous two-plus seasons has left their farm system barren, and an enormous chunk of their gifted pitching employees will probably depart within the coming years. They might make the payroll work round a Soto/Machado/Tatis/Musgrove core, however it could probably contain some awkward maneuvering. Buying and selling primarily your complete farm system makes it tougher to develop cost-effective choices internally, in order that they is likely to be compelled to dip into free company to enrich their starry core with common function gamers.
It wouldn’t be out of the query to plan on letting Soto depart after 2024, and expend future sources as needed to enhance the group within the short-term. Going toe-to-toe with the Dodgers yearly is a troublesome enterprise; the Padres would possibly favor to maintain their long-term core to Tatis and Machado whereas taking occasional big short-term pictures just like the Soto deal.
I can see the deserves in both method, although I lean in direction of determining a solution to retain Soto. The way forward for the farm system isn’t set in stone; a great draft or two can transfer these rankings round quite a bit. Wooden, for instance, was a second spherical choose solely final yr; it doesn’t take many picks like that or improvement successes elsewhere to replenish the coffers. There are many 50 FV prospects on the earth, and just one Juan Soto.
No matter which path the Padres pursue, they’ve made an indelible mark on the 2022 season, and on commerce deadline historical past. There has by no means earlier than been a deal like this. The closest I can come to a comparability is when the Marlins dealt younger Miguel Cabrera, however that is larger than that. Cabrera was two years older than Soto on the time of the deal and had put up worse offensive numbers to that time in his profession. He additionally had much less time remaining till free company; two full years as a substitute of two years plus a playoff chase. Lastly, that was considered one of many Jeffrey Loria fireplace gross sales; it is a generational participant leaving a high-payroll group, albeit one which’s at the moment horrible.
It’d really feel dangerous, when you’re a San Diego fan, to deal all the highest prospects the Padres had been fastidiously retaining over the previous few years. Because the group added expertise in trades, they repeatedly despatched depth reasonably than stars, preserving a heavy-hitting core. One use for that core could be letting them play alongside Tatis and Machado, however I like what they did extra. If these prospects panned out into one Soto-level participant, the Padres could be past ecstatic. In the event that they panned out into three gamers who mixed to roughly equal Soto’s manufacturing, that will nonetheless be a better-than-median end result. Price certainty and group management are good, and prospects actually supply these in spades, notably a high-upside crop like those they traded. However the Padres are good proper now, in a division the place being aggressive over the long term is just not assured. Hanging whereas the iron is sizzling appears affordable to me, notably when you are able to do it for a three-year window with top-of-the-line few gamers within the recreation. Win-now trades don’t at all times make sense, however when you’re going to aim to win now, that is completely one of the best ways to do it.
For the Nationals, I hate to say it, however this deal is sensible. Once more, you must assume a Soto commerce was inevitable, however when you try this, turning your farm system from lackluster to brimming with expertise is precisely what any group ought to do once they commerce away a premium expertise. There’s merely no different solution to get this many high-upside gamers without delay. The Nationals already had the major-league look of a rebuilding group; now at the very least they’ve an amazing farm system as a substitute of a bottom-tier one.
The NL West race is probably going over. The NL playoffs, alternatively, determine to be an epic conflict. The Dodgers are the Dodgers. The Braves are the defending World Sequence champions and is likely to be higher this yr than final. The Mets are including Jacob deGrom to a group taking part in .637 baseball. The Padres simply joined that prime tier with a single commerce. It’s a good time to be a Padres fan. All Mike Rizzo can do is hope that in three years’ time, Nationals followers are having enjoyable, too.