The Washington Nationals have agreed to trade All-Star Juan Soto, their 23-year-old Ted Williams, to the San Diego Padres, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported this morning. The Padres won the deal and did so easily. Don’t let a curious number of fawning national reporters convince you otherwise. In exchange for some unproven (if highly ranked) prospects and a couple recently graduated young players, they have acquired the prize of the trade deadline, and indeed, the prize of any trade in recent baseball memory.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller nearly pulled off three wins in the process: An early version of the Soto deal dumped first baseman Eric Hosmer—who is virtually unplayable at first base these days—and his pricey contract on the Nationals. But Hosmer seems to have invoked his no-trade clause, forcing the teams to make things work without him. That the trade hummed right along even after Hosmer’s rejection makes you wonder why the Nationals agreed to take him back in the first place. Presumably Preller is chuckling in his office somewhere, thinking, Hey, it was worth a shot! In any case, the Padres have still upgraded from Hosmer in the form of rental Josh Bell, who will accompany Soto to San Diego as part of the trade. The additions of Bell and Soto—and Fernando Tatis Jr., due to return from the injury that’s kept him out all season—dramatically improve the surprisingly janky and unconvincing Padres lineup that had Nomar Mazara batting cleanup a week ago.
The Soto news broke in confusing, conflicting, dismaying ways. Morosi first said the deal was contingent on Hosmer’s approval; Jim Bowden around the same time tweeted that it “DOES NOT” hinge on Hosmer. Nearly every scoopster agreed that the haul of prospects headed to Washington was the “biggest” trade return in baseball history. Nearly every scoopster sounded like they were trying to tweet a front office’s cope into triumph. “It is believed to gain access to all of this minor league talent (arguably the most ever traded in 1 deal) the Nationals on taking on Eric Hosmer,” MLB Network’s Joel Sherman tweeted in one incredibly funny misreading of everything going on here, as if the Padres had done the Nationals some great favor, as if taking on Eric Hosmer and not giving them literally Juan Soto were what let the Nationals “gain access” to some 19-year-olds in Single-A.
The Nationals have moved up the Fangraphs farm system rankings, but from 24th to eighth, which is still not a particularly encouraging outlook for a team that is the worst in baseball and now without its best player. This is nothing against the prospects, who may well be very nice and good at baseball. Pitcher MacKenzie Gore and shortstop CJ Abrams debuted in the majors this year, to yet unspectacular results. (Gore was placed on the injured list with elbow inflammation last week.) The ones still in the minors—pitcher Jarlin Susana, and outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood—are well-regarded by various prospect evaluators. But even one of them becoming a player of Juan Soto’s caliber represents the best possible and least likely outcome. What was true the moment Soto became available in trade talks remained true today: The team giving him up could only lose.