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Juan Soto joined San Diego Padres; Nationals get a lot of prospects

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The Washington Nationals did what once seemed unthinkable on Tuesday: they traded Juan Soto.

Why? This will be discussed for weeks and months – not to mention years and decades in a city where Soto, just 23 years old, has grown into a star outfielder and one of the best sluggers in the world. But after Soto turned down a 15-year, $440 million renewal offer in early July, the front office struck an eight-player deal that rocked Major League Baseball, changed the course of the franchise and further saddened fans, who have lost star after star since the 2019 Nationals won the World Series.

Calling it the biggest deal of this year’s trading session falls short. With Soto under team control during the 2024 season, the Padres could have him for three playoff races and give them a roster built around Soto, Fernando Tatís Jr., Manny Machado and first baseman Josh Bell, who the Nationals saw Soto in grabbed the train.

DC, meanwhile, have to watch as another homegrown cornerstone leaves the club. Bryce Harper, who once won an MVP award with the Nationals, relocated to Philadelphia after the 2018 season. One of the World Series heroes, Anthony Rendon, joined the Los Angeles Angels shortly after that title run. And last summer, the team sent Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers to begin a rebuild that general manager Mike Rizzo believes took a step forward on Tuesday.

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Yes, the Soto and Bell trade yielded a big hit: shortstop CJ Abrams, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit, and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana. But there hasn’t been a replacement for Soto or what he means to the organization since he debuted in 2018 at the age of 19. As the Nationals stumbled to another last spot, they sold a quick restart around Soto, a once-in-a-generation player and one of the few reasons to watch this summer.

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Without him, however, the Nationals are betting on the development of unproven but highly acclaimed players. This is the reality at the end of the blockbuster deal.

In recent days, San Diego has been in the mix for Soto along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals. But on Tuesday morning, the Padres were a clear frontrunner with Soto and Bell in play as a package deal.

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That ends Soto’s four-year run with the Nationals, the team that signed him as a teenager from the Dominican Republic in 2015. Soto has packed this tenure with a World Series ring, a National League batting title, two Silver Slugger awards, two top-five finishes in MVP voting, and two All-Star appearances. In July, he won the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, contributing to a resume that should belong to a mid-career star and not someone who can’t rent a car with no underage fees.

Soto is just so decorated and so young, and he’s following in the statistical footsteps of all-time players like Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Trout. Soto combines power and contact ability with otherworldly plate discipline. That’s why he asked the Padres for such a big reward. Baseball writers once spent an off-season comparing him to Ted Williams, one of the greatest batsmen of all time.

But his steady dominance complicated his future in Washington. Soto has long been keen to hit free agency after the 2024 season, the only way to see how the open market appreciates him. Still, the Nationals scrambled to sign him on a long-term extension – a goal made even more pressing after the club began rebuilding last summer, delivering eight veterans for 12 unproven players.

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First, there was a $350 million 13-year contract offer to Soto in November. After that, Washington increased the numbers in May, then even more at 15 years and $440 million a month ago. Soto didn’t accept this as he felt he was worth more than an average annual value of $29.3 million. On July 16, that offer — the largest in MLB history by total contract value — was released and released alongside the Nationals’ intention to hear trade offers for Soto before the deadline.

Without an extension and with Soto being more valuable that he would take part in trade talks over the winter, the front office was abandoned to do what once seemed unthinkable. Trading with Juan Soto? Treat the player to some of the biggest hits in club history – Josh Hader’s go-ahead single in the NL wildcard game; Clayton Kershaw’s scoring homer in Game 5 of the NL Division Series; towering shots against Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander in the World Series – while his prime might be ahead, not behind?

On July 1, Rizzo was asked about the possibility of trading with Soto in an interview on 106.7 the Fan. He was defiant and said the Nationals wouldn’t buy their best player, which was one of the few reasons he came to the stadium. Then everything changed when 15 years and $440 million fell flat. Money often has this effect.

Soto’s journey didn’t begin when he debuted at Nationals Park at 19. She didn’t start at the club’s academy in the Dominican Republic, where he spent extra hours on Rosetta Stone to perfect his English. It didn’t start when the team first discovered him as a left-handed pitcher who could bat a bit.

For Soto, it all started in a Santo Domingo living room when his father threw him bottle caps, which the little boy slammed against the walls. He wanted to be Manny Ramirez or Robinson Canó. On long days on the playground, he mimicked Canó’s uppercut, and the other kids called him “Little Robbie.” Baseball has a long tradition in their common country. He, too, dreams of major league glory.

Those dreams brought Soto to Washington; in a Nationals uniform across America; to the highs of the World Series and the lows of a rebuild. Next, they’ll take him to San Diego, where a new following will hang on to each of his at-bats. Soto has always been a player who blinks and might miss. So trading him means DC will miss a lot.

Barry Svrluga contributed to this report, which has been updated.

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