Padres’ Juan Soto excited to join ‘winning team,’ non-committal on extension

Soto excited to join ‘winning team,’ non-committal on extension originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

After three years of residing in the NL East basement, Juan Soto is back in the playoff race.

The former Nationals outfielder experienced what it was like to make the push for a postseason spot in 2019, when he helped Washington clinch a Wild Card berth and make an improbable run to a World Series title. In the three seasons since, however, the club has spent most of the time at the bottom of the division standings.

That’s not something he’s going to have to worry about now that he’s a member of the Padres. The Nationals traded him and Josh Bell to San Diego on Tuesday in a blockbuster deal that lands him in the NL West for at least the next two and a half seasons. During his introductory press conference Wednesday, he spoke about how excited he was to join a contender.

“It’s been a really exciting moment for me, my family,” Soto said. “I’m happy to join this team. I’ve been seeing this team since Day 1 in D.C. and they’ve been doing a great job playing good baseball and I’m more than excited to join a winning team and be part of it and try my best to push them as long as we can.”

In Soto, San Diego gains one of the best hitters in the game. The 23-year-old accumulated an impressive set of accolades in Washington: two Silver Slugger awards, two All-Star selections, a COVID-season batting title, a Home Run Derby victory and three top-10 MVP finishes. Not to mention that World Series ring he earned by posting a .927 OPS in the playoffs.

As gaudy of numbers Soto put up for the Nationals, the team couldn’t capitalize on his ascension into an MVP candidate past 2019. Washington entered play Wednesday with a 127-201 since 2020, the third-worst record in the majors over that span. The club signaled its intent to enter a period of losing at last year’s trade deadline with a roster teardown and made Soto the unquestioned face of the franchise heading into this season.

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Amid all the losing, Soto admitted he was trying to do too much at the plate at times. He got off to a slow start, though only by his high standards. Making the jump from the team with baseball’s worst record to a Padres team currently in playoff position is certain to inject some energy into the fun-loving superstar.

“It feels really nice,” Soto said of landing with a contending club. “It feels really pumped to be here. Like you said, to go from a team that has no chance to come all the way here, it’s a great feeling. It’s a new vibe, it’s a new start for me. This year, it’s just a new start, a new feeling to go out there to give more that I have.”

Even beyond this season, the Padres boast one of baseball’s most formidable cores. Shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr., third baseman Manny Machado and starter Joe Musgrove are all locked into long-term deals. Whether Soto joins them, however, is a question for another day.

“For me right now, I just came in,” Soto said. “I’m just thinking about winning. I’m just coming to this clubhouse to bring the energy that I have. All the good vibes that I have to bring here is just to win. I’m concentrated on this year, where we’re at in the standings against the other teams. So I’m just thinking about winning like I told A.J. [Preller] earlier today.”

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