SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Padres left no doubt about their desired destiny when they added superstar Juan Soto to a lineup led by All-Star Manny Machado and about to welcome back flashy Fernando Tatis Jr.
Until well into October. Maybe even November.
General manager AJ Preller, already known for his innate ability to make trades, worked his way through what may be one of the biggest deals in baseball history at the trade deadline when he acquired Soto, the outfielder Washington Nationals superstar who is one of the best in the game. young hitters and switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell.
The drive back to Washington was significant: rookie left-hander MacKenzie Gore, first baseman/DH Luke Voit, and prospects James Wood, CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III and Jarlin Susana.
The Padres feel it was worth it.
“We feel like we’re going to put on a show and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch,” said Tatis, the star shortstop who is about to return from a broken left wrist. “It’s really exciting to be 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 dump prospects and push their team to a higher luxury tax threshold to get the generational superstar.
Soto remains under the team’s control for two more seasons after this one, which made it uncertain whether the Nationals would trade him now. The Padres got him for potentially three playoff runs, even without a new deal, making this Soto’s ultimate value.
“Ultimately, we look at it as three years, three pennant runs with one of the best hitters, maybe the best hitter in the game,” Preller said. “That’s a long time. … We’ll have time in the future to figure out the long-term commitment. Peter, Eric, they’ve wanted to do that with elite players, elite people, he’s one of them.
“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 in tune with what it meant for our franchise.”
Machado called Soto and Bell “impact players that are going to come here and help this team tremendously. The best in the game right now.”
When asked what made Soto special, Machado paused and said, “I don’t even know how to answer that question. I mean, this is Juan Soto. He does what he does every day, every year and he showed it in the postseason, he showed it in the All-Star Games, the Home Run Derby. The same way he posted every 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.
His only playoff appearance since Preller took over in 2014 was a wild-card series victory 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 great pennant race,” Preller said. “We feel like we are a better team, a stronger team. We are a stronger team, but we know there is going to be a lot of competition. It’s getting to October, getting to the dance and seeing what happens.”
Preller said teams went through so many versions of the deal that “when we got to the finish line at the end, there was some celebration, some cheering, some high fives, maybe some disappointment seeing some of the prospects walk out the door.” . .”
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo set a high asking price last month after reports surfaced that Soto turned down the team’s last 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. “Supports to the San Diego Padres. They are fearless, and ownership is fearless, and AJ Preller is fearless, and they were aggressive and we made a deal that you call historic.”
Uncertainty about his future began to weigh 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 here or wherever you are.”
That will 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 is just a couple of years away from slugging .695 with a 1.185 OPS and .490 on-base percentage, all tops in the NL.
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 received more walks than any other player in the Major Leagues in the last two seasons. A two-time All-Star, Soto was second in 2021 NL MVP voting.
The massive deal came a day after Preller made a blockbuster trade to get All-Star closer Josh Hader from Milwaukee and finalized a five-year, $100 million contract for All-Star right-hander Joe Musgrove.
“The vibe here is that 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 refused to waive a no-trade provision. Hosmer was then traded to Boston for left-hander Jay Groome.
After bringing 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 home runs 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 remainder of this season and Bell is owed $3,516,844.
The prospect package going to Washington is one of the most hyped groups ever involved in a deal. Gore and Abrams debuted in San Diego this season after ranking among the elite minor league players in the sport, Hassell and Wood are among the top 100 prospects according to MLB.comand 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 last year’s deadline, and Washington has allowed Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and others to continue in free agency.
The quintet of young players from San Diego could join those acquired last year, including pitcher Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz, as the core of Washington’s next contender.
“We were lucky that it was a complete trade,” Rizzo said. “We have two pitchers, two outfielders and a shortstop, which are perfectly suited to our needs.”
Whyno reported from Washington. AP baseball writer Ronald Blum also contributed to this report.