WASHINGTON — The San Diego Padres left no doubt about their desired destination when they added superstar Juan Soto to a lineup anchored by All-Star Manny Machado and about to welcome back flashy Fernando Tatis Jr.
Deep into October. Maybe even November.
General manager A.J. Preller, already known for an innate ability to pull off trades, navigated his way through perhaps one of baseball's biggest deals ever at the trade deadline when he acquired Soto, the superstar outfielder from the Washington Nationals who is one of the game's best young hitters, and switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell.
The haul going back to Washington was significant: rookie left-hander MacKenzie Gore, first baseman/DH Luke Voit and prospects James Wood, C.J. Abrams, Robert Hassell III and Jarlin Susana.
The Padres feel it was more than worth it.
“We feel like we’re going to put up a show and it's going to be really fun to watch," said Tatis, the star shortstop who is close to returning from a fractured left wrist. "It’s really hype to be over here.”
Could that hype extend to a World Series run?
“Ooooh,” said Tatis, who has known Soto since they were teenagers in the Dominican Republic. “We have the talent. We definitely have the talent, and we have the team to do it. Now it’s up to us to put the work out there and make it happen.”
That's why Preller, owner Peter Seidler and team president Erik Greupner were willing to part with prospects and push their team into a higher luxury tax threshold to get the generational superstar.
Soto remains under team control for two more seasons after this one, which made it no sure thing the Nationals would trade him now. The Padres getting him for potentially three playoff runs even absent a new deal made this the peak of Soto’s value.
“Ultimately, we’re looking at it as three years, three pennant races with one of the best hitters, maybe the best hitter in the game," Preller said. “That’s a long time. … We’ll have time to figure out down the road the long-term commitment. Peter, Eric, have wanted to do that with elite players, elite people, he’s one of those.
"You're talking about a 23-year-old player who won a World Series, won a batting title, is a perennial MVP candidate, at that age. I think we were on the same page what it meant for our franchise.”
Machado called Soto and Bell “impact players who are going to come in here and help out this team tremendously. Top of the game right now.”
Asked what made Soto special, Machado paused and said, “I don't even know how to answer that question. I mean, he's Juan Soto. He does what he does every single day, every single year and he showed it in the postseason, showed it in All-Star Games, the Home Run Derby. Just the way he posted up every single day.”
The Padres entered the day 12 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and two games ahead of Philadelphia for the second of three wild-card spots.
Their only playoff appearance since Preller took over in 2014 was a wild-card series win after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. They were then swept in the division series by the Dodgers, who went on to win the World Series.
“We feel like it’s going to be a dogfight. It’s going to be a heck of a pennant race," Preller said. "We feel we’re a better team, a stronger team. We’re a stronger team, but we know it’s going to be a lot of competition. It’s getting to October, getting to the dance, and see what happens.”
Preller said the teams went through so many versions of the deal that "when we got to the finish line at the end, there was some celebrations, some cheers, some high-fives, maybe some disappointment seeing some of the prospects going out the door.”
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo set a lofty asking price last month after reports emerged that Soto rejected the team’s latest contract offer of $440 million over 15 years.
“We set the bar very, very high, and one team exceeded it and that’s the deal we made,” Rizzo said. “Props to the San Diego Padres. They’re not afraid, and ownership’s not afraid and A.J. Preller’s not afraid, and they were aggressive and we made a deal that you call historical.”
The uncertainty over his future began weighing on Soto, who said after Sunday’s game against St. Louis: “I just want to get it over with and see what’s going to happen. Start over here or wherever I’m at.”
That'll be in San Diego. Soto and Bell will be introduced at an afternoon news conference and are expected to be in the lineup that night against the Colorado Rockies.
With little protection around him in Washington’s lineup, Soto hit .246 with 20 home runs and 45 RBIs and 91 walks in 101 games.
In 2,435 plate appearances since making his Nationals debut in 2018, Soto is batting .291 with 118 home runs and 357 RBIs. He’s only a couple of years removed from slugging .695 with a 1.185 OPS and .490 on-base percentage — all NL bests.
After contributing to the Nationals’ first championship in franchise history in 2019, Soto hit .351 in 2020 to win the NL batting title. He has been walked more than any other player in major league baseball over the past two seasons. A two-time All-Star, Soto was second in NL MVP voting in 2021.
The massive deal came a day after Preller swung a blockbuster trade to get All-Star closer Josh Hader from Milwaukee and finalized a $100 million, five-year contract for All-Star right-hander Joe Musgrove.
“The atmosphere here is they want to win, and not just go to the playoffs but win a World Series,” Hader said. “That’s a contagious atmosphere to be a part of.”
Voit was a late addition to the deal after San Diego first baseman Eric Hosmer declined to waive a no-trade provision. Hosmer was then traded to Boston for left-hander Jay Groome.
After reeling in Soto, Preller also acquired infielder Brandon Drury from Cincinnati. The Padres sent minor league shortstop Victor Acosta to the Reds for the 29-year-old Drury, who has a career-high 20 homers this year.
San Diego began the season with a luxury tax payroll of $229.3 million, just below the first threshold, and the trades push the Padres into tax territory for the second straight season. Soto is owed $5,978,022 for the rest of this season and Bell $3,516,844.
The package of prospects going to Washington is one of the most touted groups ever involved in one deal. Gore and Abrams debuted in San Diego this season after ranking among the sport's elite minor leaguers, Hassell and Wood are both top 100 prospects according to MLB.com, and Susana was considered the best pitcher available in the 2021-22 international free agent class.
Soto becomes the latest Nationals player to be traded as part of the organization’s long-term rebuild and with ownership looking to sell the team. Rizzo traded shortstop Trea Turner, ace Max Scherzer, power hitter Kyle Schwarber and five others at the deadline last year, and Washington has let Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and others move on in free agency.
The quintet of young players coming from San Diego could join the ones acquired last year — including pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz — as the core of Washington's next contender.
“We were fortunate that it was a well-rounded trade,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got two pitchers, two outfielders and a shortstop, which fit our needs perfectly.”