“It had to be a team that needed the piece,” GM Mike Rizzo told reporters back on August 2, 2022 after trading Juan Soto (and Josh Bell) to San Diego at the trade deadline. “It had to be a team that was obviously in contention, and it had to be a team that had the personnel that we needed to get back in the trade.”
Rizzo and Co. in Washington, D.C. set a high bar to even consider trading Soto, now 24, who had two-plus seasons of team control left at the time, and had reportedly turned down a 15-year/$440M extension offer from the club which signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 and called him up to make his MLB debut in 2018 (and with whom he won a World Series in 2019).
“We had a specific set of players at each organization that we had to get to begin a conversation, and again, it turned out that there was only one organization that was willing to do that, and if they didn’t we probably wouldn’t have done a deal,” Rizzo explained.
“We put our wishlist out there to the teams,” the Nats’ GM continued.
“We needed a handful, a package of premium prospects, and then we talk after that. So that’s where it began. It eliminated quite a few teams, and we found a team that had the prospects we liked, wanted Soto enough, and we made the deal.”
The handful or package of premium prospects the Nationals received from the Padres featured shortstop C.J. Abrams, left-hander MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III, outfielder James Wood, and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana, along with MLB veteran first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit.
“We were fortunate that it was kind of a well-rounded package,” Rizzo said.
“We really liked the talent-level of all five of the prospects, and we got a veteran player in Luke Voit which we think will help this year in the mentoring process and that type of thing, but we really like the five prospects that we got. They’re all high-upside, high-character, high-quality guys that we have scouted for a long time, had a lot of history with, and we were fortunate that it was a well-rounded trade.
“We’ve got two pitchers, two outfielders, and a shortstop, which fit our needs perfectly.”
If no one met the bar the Nationals set, Rizzo reiterated, they would have simply held on to Soto.
“We put the bar extremely high, I mean, we were extremely aggressive with it,” Rizzo said, “and we [thought] to ourselves, ‘If someone reaches this bar, then we’ve made a good deal and then we would think about trading Juan.’ Because he’s such an iconic, great player, we needed to get that iconic return back for him, and if nobody did reach that plateau, then we would keep him.”
When the Padres were willing, Rizzo said, the Nationals and their front office were not afraid to make the trade.
“It was a position of — pretty much of strength — because we were getting the deal we wanted or we weren’t going to do the deal, and only one team met and exceeded the compensation package that we wanted. It was the Padres. Hats off for them for being aggressive and getting a great player.”
As for what the Nationals got to convince them it was worth trading Soto (and Bell) to the Friars?
Abrams, 21, was ranked as the Padres’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. Gore, 23, was ranked as the Padres’ No. 4 prospect, according to both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Hassell III, 20, was ranked the No. 21 prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com and No. 25 according to Baseball America. Wood, 19, was the No. 3 prospect in the Padres’ system according to MLB Pipeline and the No. 4 prospect per Baseball America. Jarlin Susana, 18, was “... the consensus No. 1 ranked pitcher in the 2022 international signing class,” as the Nationals noted in their press release on the trade, and the No. 10 prospect in San Diego’s system.
In dealing Soto (and Bell), Rizzo said, the club really kickstarted the reboot they kicked off the year before with a sell-off of expiring deals (and a year-plus of control of Trea Turner) at the trade deadline in 2021.
“I think we’ve taken several steps forward,” Rizzo told reporters. “I think it accelerates the process. I think that you lose a generational talent like that [in Soto], but you put in five key elements of your future championship roster, along with last year’s trade deadline, and the last three drafts, and the last three international signing periods.
“We’ve put in this system in the last few years, 15 or 16 high-quality, high-tooled-up players that have very impactful futures ahead of them, and I think you can see that at the minor league level now, especially at the low minor league level, the performance of those players, and again, it was the right move at the right time for where we’re at as a franchise. A difficult day and a difficult decision that we had to make, but I give the ownership [kudos] for doing it, and the operations department for having the ability to pull it off.”
“I think the prospect capital that we received,” he added, “I think it accelerates the process because it not only gives us the players to perform on the field, it opens up other avenues of revenues and payroll and that type of thing.”
A few months removed from the deal of the deadline, Rizzo talked over the final weekend of the 2022 campaign about still feeling good with the return the club got from the Padres.
“I was upbeat about it two months ago, I think after this trade deadline I think it accelerated our process a little bit,” he said. “We added a lot of talent to our system, and I think you can kind of see the aftermath of where our system was pre- and post-trade deadline, and I think that we’re excited about what’s to come in the future, and I think the blueprint to win in a timely fashion is in place, and we’re excited about it.”
The Soto/Bell trade, Rizzo said, was the biggest development of the season for the rebooting ballclub.
“I think that the most significant step that we made this season was at the trade deadline getting the players that we had to get in return for Juan Soto. I think that was the biggest step that we made. I thought it was a courageous move by ownership to allow us to do a Soto deal if we got the deal that we needed to get, and I think it was very important to the organization to do that deal, and to get the players that we needed to get to trade such a special player in Juan, and to get the players we did, I think we’re very fortunate to get what we got.”
The next step for the organization?
“We have to better ourselves,” Rizzo said.
“We have to see where our deficiencies are, where we can strengthen our roster, and like I said before, all these different venues, trade markets, free agent markets, international markets are going to be explored to get better.”