Only weeks after declining a 15-year, $440 million contract extension, Juan Soto has a new home.
The Nationals traded their 23-year-old superstar outfielder along with first baseman Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday in exchange for six players.
Washington acquired veteran first baseman Luke Voit, two recently graduated prospects in shortstop C.J. Abrams and starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore, as well as three minor leaguers in outfielder Robert Hassell III, outfielder James Wood and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana.
It’s a historic deal, one that costs Washington its best player with two-and-a-half years of control and a slugging first baseman set to hit free agency this winter but injects the club’s roster and farm system with a big chunk of San Diego's stable of young players.
Nationals President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo said in a radio appearance with 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on June 1 that the team was “not interested in trading him.” However, those plans shifted after Soto declined all three of their contract offers, the last of which would have included the largest total guarantee in MLB history.
Yet Soto is due to make north of $50 million in arbitration over the next two seasons and his agent Scott Boras has a history of shattering records once his clients reach free agency. Boras also expressed that Soto didn’t want to re-sign with the Nationals until he gained clarity on its ownership situation. The Lerner family could reportedly sell the team as early as November.
Washington didn’t wait that long, pulling off the biggest blockbuster trade of the deadline for the second year in a row. Soto now lands with a Padres team that’s second place in the NL West and holding the second NL Wild Card spot. He’ll add an immediate spark to a lineup that already includes All-Stars Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth with Fernando Tatís Jr. working his way back from injury.
The Padres will also gain a potent bat in Bell, who arrived in D.C. via an offseason trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates in December 2020. The 29-year-old got off to a slow start last season but has since been one of the Nationals’ few reliable hitters in the middle of their lineup.
Back in D.C., the Nationals move forward with a depleted major-league roster but an infusion of talent in the minors. Washington entered the season with the 26th-ranked farm system by Baseball America and most of its top recent draft picks and international signings such as Elijah Green, Brady House, Cristhian Vaquero and Armando Cruz are all still teenagers.
While the additions of Gore and Abrams will provide boosts to the Nationals' major-league roster, none of the three prospects they acquired in the deal have played above the High-A level of the minors. Hassell III was the top-ranked prospect in the Padres' farm system and overall the No. 21 prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. He's followed by Wood, who ranked third and 88th, respectively, and Susana, who's an 18-year-old in rookie ball.
Gore, 23, is on the 15-day injured list with left elbow inflammation and may not pitch again this season, though he's not expected to undergo Tommy John surgery. He went 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 37 walks in 16 games (13 starts) in 2022. The 21-year-old Abrams made his MLB debut this season as well and has hit .232 with two home runs and a .605 OPS in 46 games.
The Nationals also agreed to take on Eric Hosmer's contract, but Hosmer did not waive his no-trade clause in order to go to Washington. Hosmer is in the fifth season of the eight-year, $144 million free agent contract that he signed with the Padres ahead of the 2018 season. Hosmer was instead traded to the Red Sox, as the Nationals acquired Voit instead from San Diego.
He's owed the remaining portion of his $20 million salary for this season along with $13 million each of the next three years. The 32-year-old former World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals is hitting .272 with eight home runs and a .727 OPS in 90 games thus far in 2022.
Nationals fans must once again grapple with one of their star, homegrown hitters landing with a new team rather than signing an extension, as Soto follows the likes of Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner. With Washington already sporting the worst record in baseball, the product on the field will take yet another hit without Soto in the everyday lineup.
But after the Nationals put an organizational overhaul into motion last summer, trading Soto represents a decision to lean into that direction even further. A new young core is in the making and it’s one Washington hopes will begin to form into a sustainable contender in the not-so-distant future.