The Padres and Nationals agreed to the biggest trade of the summer before Tuesday’s deadline, with San Diego star outfielder Juan Soto and first baseman Josh Bell. In exchange, Washington receives Luke Voit and a handful of young players: shortstop C.J. Abrams, left-hander MacKenzie Gore, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, and right-hander Jarlin Susana.
The Padres have made a splash habit during A.J. Preller’s term as CEO. This one is the biggest, as it brings San Diego a 23-year-old who is on the Hall of Fame track and under team control for two more seasons. The Nationals, for their part, are receiving a number of young players, some of whom could become great in Washington. Now they are moving forward, probably under new ownership, without the ability to be competitive for at least a few years.
We here at CBS Sports are nothing but doomsayers, and that means we offer almost instant analysis of the big trades this time of year. Below you’ll find the ratings for the Padres and Nationals, along with explanations for those ratings.
With that out of the way, let’s start with a recap of the deal:
Padres grade: A
Professional baseball is, at its core, part of the entertainment industry. We try to overlook that reality most of the time on the grounds that we want baseball to be something bigger, something more. Accepting that baseball is part of the entertainment industry is not a bad thing and does not preclude those romantic feelings. See the article : Whether it’s 18 or 80, lifestyle may be more important than age to determine the risk of dementia, the study reveals. No one has ever opposed it to movies or music. Acknowledging baseball as primarily entertainment and rejecting dogmatic adherence to it as something greater only becomes a problem if you don’t find the product entertaining.
Padres fans have been there and done that. They spent their summers watching a lifeless product led by Chris Denorfia, Will Venable and Chase Headley in those memorable generic uniforms. We don’t mean to disparage those three players, but you can empathize with any Padres fan pinching themselves today, realizing they’ll have a chance to see a beefed-up trio of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. in the fall. and Juan Soto. (And they’ll be wearing technicolor jerseys.)
No director seems to understand and appreciate the fun side of things more than A.J. Preller. Say what you will about his trades and methods (and other teams joke about his free agency all the time), but the man knows how to fire up his fan base by making eye-catching moves involving big names, all in pursuit of a first World Series championship in franchise history.
Whether or not the Padres accomplish that goal — and they look more suited to do so than at any point before — they’re sure to have fun trying and sell plenty of tickets and merchandise along the way.
Soto is one of the best stoppers, and therefore one of the best players in big games. To illustrate, he is having his worst season (by OPS+ rating) in the pandemic era. He’s still hitting .246/.408/.485 with far more walks than strikeouts. If your “lows” include reaching base 40.8 percent of the time and a .240 ISO… then, my friends, that’s a sign you’re dealing with elite talent. Soto is; There’s a reason people keep bringing up names like Ted Williams when discussing his place in the game.
For those who haven’t had the joy of watching Soto play consistently, he does everything you could want at the plate. Has excellent control over the strike zone; has good bat skills, allowing him to make contact at above-average speeds; and his barrel awareness is such that he consistently averages exit velocities that rank near the top of the league. The only real gripe with Soto is that his defense is often sub-par, but that’s a trivial issue given his offense.
Adding Soto to an already good roster for up to three playoffs is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often. It’s the kind of high-leverage maneuver where any expense is justified, even if it mostly means emptying what’s left of your farm system. The Padres did that here, though they were able to keep a few interesting youngsters, including catcher Luis Campusano and infielder Jackson Merrill. Again, the cost almost pays for itself when you’re buying a player of Soto’s caliber for multiple years. It’s hard to fathom that the Padres got more than Soto himself here — and that the “more” is another good, in-demand player … well, Jesus.
Bell is an upcoming free agent who represents a clear upgrade over Eric Hosmer. In 103 games this season, he’s hitting .301/.384/.493 (152 OPS+) with 14 home runs and just 12 walks less than a strikeout (69). It’s not every day you get to add a hitter who can hit for average, walk and strike out — the Padres added two on Tuesday, giving them a deeper, stronger lineup for what will likely be a challenging October.
Even so, there’s no guarantee the Padres will advance beyond the wild card round. It’s a best-of-three series and weird things happen all the time in three-game series in this sport. But it seems whenever baseball players invoke probabilistic analysis these days, it’s to justify giving up or deference. Ours had only a 20 percent chance of making the playoffs, what were we supposed to do? Preller seems to be saying instead: what if we treated the layout as a reference rather than a guide; nothing makes the numbers a fait accompli like teams treating them as one. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets have plenty of talent to make an impact, they sure do; the only way to beat it is with your own striking talent. The Padres now have their share, and it’s all thanks to Preller.
Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Give Preller this much: baseball was a hell of a lot more fun, in San Diego and elsewhere, because of him.
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Nationals grade: D
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It doesn’t matter who the Nationals got in return for Soto. It never did. The reality is that you’ve already lost if you’re trading a 23-year-old on the Hall of Fame track who has a few more years of team control left. History supports the idea that it’s nearly impossible to get equal value for a player of Soto’s caliber, and it seems unlikely that this deal will prove to be an exception, even if some of the young returnees go on to have solid or better careers. Because sometimes it is necessary to say directly: this rating is a reflection of the current situation, trading the face of the franchise in the midst of these circumstances, more than the players.
The most generous interpretation of this deal is that the Lerners, who are selling the franchise, took the PR hit for trading Soto so that the next owners could come in with a clean slate. How kind. The subtext — the Lerners are aware that the next owners won’t want to extend Soto either — no one should be left out. (Remember that whole line about how baseball is part of the entertainment industry? Here’s the other side of that.) You have to feel for general manager Mike Rizzo. Do you think he’s memorized his farewell speech by now? Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and now Soto. Everything disappeared in a few years.
Voit, 31, is the most successful player the Nationals have acquired, even if he was a plan B after Eric Hosmer vetoed his own inclusion in the trade. Voit has two more seasons of team control left and will immediately serve as a nice replacement for Bell. He is an above average hitter with good power and a willingness to walk. Voit’s strikeout rate has risen over the past two years, suggesting the Nationals could move him this winter before his floor falls.
Abrams and Gore are the actual headliners almost by default, having been near the top of the prospect list for years and each making their major-world debut. However, each had an understandably rough introduction to the big league game.
Abrams, 21, is a speedster who hit .232/.285/.320 (77 OPS+) with 23 more strikeouts than his first 139 at-bats. It is not far from being held as the reason why Fernando Tatis Jr. moved on from the ballpark, which speaks to how the Padres and the industry viewed him. That assessment might be hard to reconcile with his big-game play, but it’s worth remembering that the Padres accelerated his arrival. He appeared in just 42 games above A-ball in his big league debut, and that was before suffering a season-ending leg injury last summer.
Some evaluators have expressed concern about Abrams’ swing decisions and quality of contact in the past. Those concerns seem predictable so far: His strikeout rate was over 40 percent, and he averaged an exit velocity in the mid-80s. It’s not ideal. The question is whether Abrams can settle in while gaining much-needed experience against higher-level competition. We’re willing to hope the answer is yes, which would, in turn, make him a high-quality player in due course.
Gore, 23, made 16 appearances (most of them starts) and compiled a 4.50 ERA (84 ERA+ and 1.95 strikeout-to-walk ratio) before recently going on the injured list with a sore elbow. He’s unlikely to play again until September, and it would be reasonable for the Nationals to shut him down for a year and let him start over next spring.
That Gore was in position to record any innings in the big leagues this season was a victory in itself, as it signaled victory over an apparent bout with the yips — that is, an often inexplicable stretch of the wild. The Padres used him out of the bullpen late in his tenure with the team, but he has a full arsenal — a mid-90s fastball and signature curveball that stand out as his best offering, as well as a slider and a rarely used changeup — and they should get a chance to move forward.
The catch with Gore is that the combination of his current injury and past savagery makes it difficult to forecast his future with any real accuracy. He could be a mid-rotation starter, he could be a little more or a lot less, depending on how things go.
Hassell and Wood are outfielders and recent high draft picks.