Sizing up the Nationals’ Soto (and Bell) trade

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo speaks with reporters about the team’s recent trades before a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

It was the trading deadline day deal that seemed old even when it was new.

They say baseball is a timeless game, but it felt like from the moment the story broke regarding Juan Soto’s refusal of the Washington Nationals’ contract offer of $440 million over 15 years, the two-time All-Star’s tenure was on the clock.

And while Soto goes to San Diego with two-plus years of team control, the Nationals also deal away, arguably, their most productive bat in 2022, Josh Bell (he was hitting .301 with a team-high 57 RBI). For a team that currently ranks 26th in the majors in runs scored, there will be a vacuum in the middle of the batting order.

But to quote actor Jeremy Irons in the movie Margin Call — “that’s spilled milk under the bridge.”

Let’s take a closer look at the swap.

Who do the Nationals get?

Veteran first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit: The 31-year old hit an MLB best 22 home runs during the COVID-induced sixty game season of 2020 while with the New York Yankees. He’s batting .225 with 13 homers and 48 RBI over 82 games in his first season with the Padres and is no stranger to midseason moves (he was dealt by St. Louis to the Yankees in July 2018).

Voit was the last piece to the puzzle, as originally, the two team agreed on Eric Hosmer (. 272 with eight homers and 40 RBI over 90 games), only to have Hosmer exercise his no-trade clause. That held up the trade about four hours.

Rookie left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore: The 23-year old owns a 4-4 record with a 4.50 ERA over 13 starts and 16 appearances. He also owns a strained elbow and is on the 15-day injured list. He’s projected to return in September, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

Rookie shortstop C.J. Abrams: The 2019 first round pick (No. 6 selection overall) was batting .232 with two homers and 11 RBI over 46 games with the Padres. He was sent down to AAA Rochester Tuesday.

Three prospects:

Outfielder Robert Hassell III: The 2020 first round selection by the Padres (eighth overall) is in his second Minor League season, most recently with Fort Wayne in high-A ball. Hassell was batting .299 with 10 home runs, 55 RBI and 20 stolen bases over 75 games and participated in this year’s Futures Game.

Outfielder James Wood: The 2021 second round pick was hitting .321 with 10 homers and 45 RBI for the Padres Rookie League and single-A affiliates this year. He’s six-foot-seven and has played 67 of his 77 career games in center field.

Pitcher Jarlin Susara: The 18-year old right-hander from the Dominican Republic was signed as a free agent by the Padres in January and owned a 2.45 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 11 walks in 29.1 innings over seven starts (and eight games) in Rookie League competition.

Fan reaction 

I asked multiple Nats fans outside the ballpark Tuesday about their thoughts regarding the trade and there was almost the same pattern: disappointment, acceptance, expectations.

Nationals fans have had a crash course in the six stages of grief this summer with the trading of two-time All Star Juan Soto, WTOP's Dave Preston reports.

The faithful are rightfully bummed. They won’t have a generational player batting third every day and starting in right field, especially with many of the moves made over the last few years (letting Anthony Rendon walk, trading Trea Turner a year before his contract expired), it was inferred that they were saving that money for Soto.

There’s nobody on the current roster now you could say they’re saving money for by not keeping Juan Soto. He’ll also likely play the majority of his career elsewhere, and if he makes the Hall of Fame (always an “if” early in one’s career — see Ryan Howard or even Ryan Zimmerman), it will be wearing the hat of another team.

Soto was the past (a key player in the 2019 World Series win), present (two-time All Star and current Home Run Derby champ), and future (only 23 with his entire career ahead of him) until Tuesday afternoon.

“I just wanted us to extend Soto because it would have been nice to have that ‘Nationals for life, Hall of Famer’ type of guy,” Gabe Cooper of Bethesda said. Now, he’s the pride of the Padres.

But the fans who follow the game understand how the 21st century version is played, and when a player is not going to re-sign with the club, it’s necessary to get something for them (two of the players received last year for Trea Turner and Max Scherzer are already in the majors) than almost nothing (Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper’s departures yielded draft picks).

“It obviously was a place where we couldn’t sign him, so it looks like we got some wonderful prospects in return,” Scott Renkus of Ashburn said. And the fact that the likelihood of a trade has been bandied about for much of the season makes the acceptance of a deal a lot easier.

Fan reaction to the trade of Juan Soto was one of disappointment and acceptance., WTOP's Dave Preston reports.

The Nationals were the oldest team in baseball when they won the 2019 World Series. Many of the players on that roster have retired (Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick), left via Free Agency (Anthony Rendon) or trade (Max Scherzer) while others have missed major time with injuries (Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross).

Now, even the young building blocks from that roster (Trea Turner and Juan Soto) are gone, with only Victor Robles remaining from the championship everyday lineup. Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez are the others from that roster still in Washington.

“You better have a long-term vision, because this seems fairly shortsighted. So we better be rebuilding the team — now or never,” Graham from D.C. said.

And just like that, the “good old days” of 2012-19 have officially ended. The 2020-21 seasons were not hiccups, but the start of the long road back to contention.

After one more game with the NL East-leading New York Mets, the Nats get out of town for a while, visiting Philadelphia (finally coming to earth after their post-managerial firing surge) and the Chicago Cubs (another recent champion that is in a reboot).

When they get back? Former teammates Juan Soto and Josh Bell drop by the District with their new team Friday, Aug. 12.

Life comes at you fast.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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