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Juan Soto Trade Makes Padres True World Series Contenders—in 2022 and Beyond

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVAugust 2, 2022

The Washington Post

After months of constantly changing speculation involving the Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals, Rangers, Mariners and others, it was the San Diego Padres who won the Juan Soto sweepstakes on the morning of MLB's trade deadline Tuesday.

For the superstar right fielder and first baseman Josh Bell, the Padres sent the Washington Nationals shortstop C.J. Abrams, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, first baseman Luke Voit, outfielder Robert Hassell III, outfielder James Wood and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana.

The Nats end up with one of the biggest hauls in trade history.

But they absolutely could have gotten more for Soto.

We toss around this two-word phrase way more often that we should as sports fans, but Soto truly is a generational talent.

At just 23 years old, he's theoretically still five years away from hitting his peak. And yet, he's 16th in MLB history in career OPS and 20th in career wRC+, and it seemingly has become an unspoken rule that you cannot mention what Soto has accomplished in his career without also mentioning Ted Williams.

Since the start of his rookie season (2018), only Soto (.427) and Mike Trout (.429) have amassed an on-base percentage north of .400.

Soto is also fifth in the majors in runs scored (399) during that time, this despite not getting called up until 40-plus games into his rookie season and spending the past two-and-a-half years with virtually no lineup protection behind him.

Buster Olney @Buster_ESPN

What interested teams should be asking themselves about Juan Soto pursuit:<br>What would we have been willing to give up to get Henry Aaron in 1958?<br>Willie Mays in 1955?<br>Ted Williams in 1941? <br>Trout in 2014?<br>Because that’s the kind of statistical neighborhood Soto inhabits at Age 23

To get a hitter of that caliber, the Padres had to assemble quite the trade package.

Voit's 13 home runs now lead the Nationals with Soto and Bell gone. Gore was the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft. Abrams went sixth overall in 2019. Both entered 2021 as top 10 prospects in baseball, per MLB.com's rankings, and they immediately become two of the five most valuable—if not indisputably the two most valuable—players in the Nationals' organization.

Hassell is 21st in MLB.com's prospect rankings. Wood is 88th. And Susana is an intriguing 18-year-old prospect who the Padres picked up during the international signing period in January.

But even without factoring in Bell, there's little question that San Diego won this trade.

A dollar in exchange for two quarters, two dimes and a lottery ticket is a no-brainer move for the team getting the dollar. Prior to this morning, when rumors of a possible Soto/Bell package started swirling, we assumed it would take something on par with that five-player platter to have any hope of getting just Soto.

But throw in the two-month rental of Bell—who ranks 20th among all batters in Baseball Reference WAR this season—and San Diego goes from simply winning the swap to pulling off one of the greatest trade deadline heists of all time.

(Speaking as a fan of the Nationals who's living in the DMV area: Thanks, I hate it. With the sheer amount of money tied up in Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and the ghost of Max Scherzer, competing any time soon was always going to be a challenge. But watching a team effectively throw in the towel on the next 2.5 seasons is never fun.)

Does this trade make the Padres the favorite to win the 2022 World Series?

Well, no.

The Dodgers, Yankees, Astros and Mets are still doggone good, and MLB's new postseason format increases the likelihood of either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed representing each league in the Fall Classic.

But while they aren't the new favorite to win it all, the Padres are certainly a more legitimate threat.

Their World Series odds on DraftKings went from +2000 to +1100 in an instant, and that's with superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. still at least a week or two away from making his 2022 debut. If he comes back from his wrist injury and immediately starts bat flipping all over the place, San Diego becomes that much more of a problem.

They won't catch the Dodgers for first place in the NL West. Making up a 12-game gap in two months' time—on the team with the best winning percentage in baseball, no less—is all but impossible.

However, if the standings more or less hold to form and we end up with the NL's No. 1 seed Dodgers hosting the NL's No. 4/5 seed Padres in the NLDS, well, let's just say this lineup has more than a puncher's chance in what will feel like a World Series-caliber showdown:

B/R Walk-Off @BRWalkoff

Where does this lineup stack up? <a href="https://t.co/aBstrBTWGW">pic.twitter.com/aBstrBTWGW</a>

Three-and-a-half years after signing Manny Machado, 20 months after trading for both Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, 18 months after effectively making Tatis a Padre for life with a 14-year deal and not even a full day after fleecing the Brewers in a trade for closer Josh Hader, the Padres have finally reached their fully evolved form.

Though this trade doesn't make the Padres the World Series favorite in 2022, it arguably does make them the early favorite in the clubhouse for 2023 and possibly 2024 too.

Bell will hit free agency after this season. So, too, will Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger. But in the face of a batting nucleus of Soto, Tatis, Machado and Jake Cronenworth and a pitching nucleus of Darvish, Snell, Joe Musgrove and Hader, even the bottomless-pocketed Dodgers might not be able to put together a contender that strong.

The Padres already have Machado signed through 2028 (though he does have an opt-out available after next season) and Tatis through 2034. The next step is locking down Soto beyond 2024.

We already know 15 years, $440 million wasn't enough to keep him in D.C., but whatever the dollar amount ends up being, you've got to believe San Diego will be willing to pay it, considering how much it gave up to get him. And if it does reach a long-term deal with the OPS phenom, the trio of Soto, Tatis and Machado in the heart of the order will keep San Diego in the running for every World Series through the end of the decade.

If reading that last sentence doesn't come as a shock to your system, it should, because San Diego has never won a World Series. It did get there twice, in 1984 and 1998, but it went 1-8 in those games, and those were the only two times in more than a half-century of franchise history that the Padres reached an NLCS.

With what they've accomplished at this year's trade deadline, though, I would bet an irresponsible amount of money on this team winning at least one World Series before 2030.

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