Davey Martinez got emotional and a bit nostalgic when he spoke with reporters in the immediate aftermath of the club’s franchise-altering trade of Juan Soto (and Josh Bell) to the San Diego Padres at the deadline this past August 2nd.
Considering the fact that Soto debuted in the majors in 2018, in Martinez’s first season on the bench as the manager in the nation’s capital, and that they won a World Series together in 2019, you can understand the feelings Martinez had to deal with when the then-22, now-23-year-old Soto was actually traded (along with Bell) in a blockbuster deal which brought back five high-end prospects from the Padres’ system [CJ Abrams, MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, and Jarlin Susana], and a major league bat [Luke Voit].
“Juan, I’ve known Juan for a very, very long time,” Martinez explained, after praising the contributions both Soto and Bell made while with the club. “I can remember the first I seen him, we brought him up for a Spring Training game, and the first pitch that was thrown to him I think he swung at a 55-[foot] slider in the dirt, and I thought there’s a young kid, you know. He stepped out of the box, shook his head, the very next pitch he drove the ball to left-center field for a double. And I said, ‘Woah, that’s a little different.’ And then we brought him back up and almost a similar thing, he worked a good count, he drove another ball to right-center field for another double. And since then he grew on me. And I said, ‘If you can learn how to take your walks,’ I said, ‘Your swing’s good, you’ve got a chance to play here.’ And he said, ‘I can do that.’ And sure enough, as we all know today, what he has become. So, he’s just an incredible kid that matured really, really fast. As we all know he taught himself how to speak English in a very rapid time because he didn’t want anybody to speak for him, he wanted to speak for himself.
“So, that’s pretty incredible. So he’s just — like I said, he’s one of those kids that, we all know what his potential is and what he’s going to be, and I’m just fortunate to have him for the period I’ve had him and get to know him at a young age and watch him grow when he was here.”
Martinez played 16 seasons in the majors, and has been coaching and now managing for years, so he’s had players he bonded with traded away, but Soto’s departure was particularly emotional.
“You know, they’re really all tough, they really are,” he acknowledged.
“I built these relationships with these guys. The toughest thing with Juan is he was so young, right? And like I said, I’ve seen him when he was just a kid. But they’re all tough, there’s not one particular one, favorite one, they’re all my favorites, but like I said before, we’ve shared some unbelievable memories that I’ll cherish forever.”
Martinez struggled to identify one of the many special moments from Soto’s time with the Nationals which stood out for him from their years together, only because he said there were so many to choose from when he was asked, though he did settle on one indelible image which stuck in his mind.
“There’s so many. He’s done so many different things for this organization. The biggest one is when we won Game 7 [of the 2019 World Series]. I remember looking out there and him dropping to his knees, that was pretty special.”
Martinez didn’t have much time to sit and reminisce about Soto’s tenure in Washington before the outfielder (and Bell) returned to Nationals Park with San Diego a short time after the trade.
“Seeing them in the other dugout was tough,” he said, “… but you know what, he’s got a job to do and we got a job to do today, and that’s to try to keep him off the bases and get him out, so we’re preparing ourselves for that right now.
“But like I said before, I can sit here and talk about Juan all day long, you guys know what kind of player he is and what kind of young man he is and for me personally, I miss him, just because he was that constant guy in right field for us, and I’m sure the fans miss him as well, but we got some pretty good players for him that I’ve been keeping track of that are doing well, so that’s exciting for me as well. We’ve got some young, young, young players that we’re excited about.”
Martinez was asked again, ten days after the trade, why Soto’s departure affected him so deeply.
“Why do you have to bring that up right now?” Martinez asked, with a laugh, but also a hint of emotion. “I don’t know if it feels different, it just feels kind of weird, like, because it feels like he was just here yesterday, right? I mean, that’s what it feels like, but like I said, once I see him in the uniform it will feel a lot different.”
“Probably when I first see him there will be some emotions,” he added, “but once the game starts, yeah, all emotions inside and let’s get to work.”
Given the length and breadth of his own experience in the game, and given some time to think about it, Martinez was asked if there was any other trade in his career which was as big a deal and high-profile as the Soto (and Bell) trade.
“I played on teams that got high-profile players, I know that,” he said. “We made a trade in Montreal where we got [Mark] Langston, and we gave up the Big Unit [Randy Johnson]. But we felt like Langston was a more polished left-handed pitcher. I can’t think of a guy that we had — I take that back, when I was with the [Chicago] White Sox we lost three of our players that were impact players: Roberto Hernàndez, Wilson Àlvarez, and Danny Darwin, all in one shot, they went to — two of them went to San Francisco, so we lost those guys and we felt like we were in the Wild Card race, so it was tough. Whenever you lose a teammate it’s tough. Because you build these special relationships with guys and they go on and do something else, but for me it’s like I said, I’ve been in contact with all these guys, all the guys that played here, all the guys that I played with in the past, I still have relationships with a lot of those guys.”