“I was relieved, I really was,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters in his post game press conference on the night Washington traded both Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres for a high-end prospect package and one big league bat. “I felt a different — a breath of fresh air, and for me it was about regrouping, and saying, ‘Alright, this is what we need to do moving forward. So, we’re going to go out there, we’re going to compete, we’re going to play hard, we’re going to do some different things … I was proud of the boys going out there.”
GM Mike Rizzo, who set a high bar for the club to even consider trading the then-23-year-old Soto with two and a half years of team control remaining before free agency, and found one team which was willing to meet his demands, said the ongoing drama involving the potential sale of the team didn’t factor into the decision-making when it came to dealing Soto.
“It was not a consideration,” Rizzo said.
“That’s above my pay grade. I’m here to make this team the best that it can be. This was a prudent move. It was a prudent baseball move. It was a difficult move. It’s a difficult day.”
Moving forward in the post-deadline run, having just traded away someone the club regularly described as a generational talent after Soto turned down a 15-year/$440M extension offer, the Nats’ skipper told reporters they would keep grinding away, but he took a moment to appreciate the contributions Soto and Bell made during their time in the nation’s capital.
“It’s been a box of mixed emotions,” the manager said. “So I know Rizzo came in and talked to you guys about what we received,” a package which included top prospects MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, and Jarlin Susana, and big league bat Luke Voit, “…which is an unbelievable amount of great talent, and we’re looking forward to working with these guys, so I really don’t want to talk about those guys, what I want to talk about is Juan Soto and Josh Bell and what they mean to this organization.”
“Starting with Soto, as we all know,” the manager continued. “He was a big part of our success in [2019’s World Series win], and those memories will never go away. We talked about them for a while. He’s a great kid, and I wished him all the best moving forward. In this game, you never know what’s going to happen in the future, as we all know, so who knows what will happen for him and myself and if we cross paths again.
“So, but he’s — what he meant to us as a National family, for the city, for the fans, we should cherish that, but like I said, we’re in a position now to move on, and like I said, we feel like with the players we got, the future is bright, and I’m looking forward to that moving forward.”
Bell wasn’t around for the Nationals’ win in the Fall Classic in 2019, and the club underperformed in his two seasons in D.C., but he made a strong impression on his manager during his time with the club, which Martinez acknowledged when the first baseman was dealt to the Padres.
“Josh Bell, what an unbelievable human being,” Martinez said. “I mean, really. I mean, his presence in the clubhouse, I call him the big teddy bear. He was unbelievable on and off the field, so he’s going to be missed. He gets an opportunity to go somewhere else and help them win, and try to get them to the playoffs, and what we all dream about is to win a World Series. He didn’t experience that here with us, but he’s got an opportunity to do that now, so I wish him all the best as well.”
“Like I said, these memories for me will never go away, two unbelievable people, but as an organization we felt like we had to do what we had to do, and as I said, I’m very, very excited about the guys that we got, and looking forward to working with them soon.”
As for the return for Soto and Bell?
Gore, 23, was ranked as the Padres’ No. 4 prospect, according to both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Abrams, 22, was ranked the Padres’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball according to both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America going into the season. Hassell III, 21, was the top prospect in San Diego’s system at the time of the trade according to MLBPipeline.com, and the No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America, and he was ranked the No. 21 prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com and No. 25 according to Baseball America. Wood, 20, 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.
The players together were the kind of young prospects the club said they needed to get to even consider trading Soto, and at the end of the season, Rizzo said the deal jumpstarted the reboot which kicked off at the trade deadline in 2021.
“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.”