Back in Washington, D.C. for the first time since he was traded to San Diego’s Padres just ten days back, at the 2022 MLB trade deadline, Juan Soto admitted there were emotions coming back again after playing five seasons in the nation’s capital.
And there were plenty on the day Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo actually dealt him, getting the sort of return they needed to even consider it, with five high-ending prospects and major league bat Luke Voit coming to the Nats in return for two and a half years of a 23-year-old Soto, and a few months of Josh Bell.
“It was a lot of emotions,” Soto said of his reaction to the trade, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman:
“I said it before: I cried the whole morning. It was pretty tough to go through it. But at the end of the day, I really understand that it’s a business, and you’ve got to do the best for yourself. They did the best for them, and I’m happy with them. No hard feelings or anything like that. I understand that it’s a business. I say to myself: Just think and keep moving forward. Whatever happens, it happens. I just have to keep going forward.”
It was emotional for his now-former manager, who hadn’t talked to either of the new Padres when he spoke to reporters before last night’s game, but planned to. Just seeing them got to him a bit.
“Seeing them in the other dugout was tough, but you know what, he’s got a job to do and we got a job to do today,” Davey Martinez said, “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.”
As he joked in the immediate aftermath of the trade, it’s now the Nationals’ job to try to get Soto out when the two teams play, after five years of watching other teams struggle to find ways to attack him.
“It will be different,” Martinez acknowledged.
“I’m not going to give away any secrets, I’ll tell you that, but you better bring it, you’ve got to compete.
“We all know that he tries to control the batter’s box, so we got to just make good pitches.”
The Nationals have lost a number of stars over the past few years ...
“Why do you have to bring that up right now?” Martinez joked with the reporter who started that way, but why does Soto (and Bell) coming back feel different, if it does?
“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 [Padres] uniform it will feel a lot different,” Martinez said.
But Martinez, who was traded five times in his own playing days, and has seen his players traded since he moved into managing, knows it’s all business, and the emotions are over after the first pitch.
“Probably when I first see him there will be some emotions, but once the game starts, yeah, all emotions inside and let’s get to work.”
He talked after the game about how it went once he did talk to his former players.
“You know, when I first saw Juan it was kind of emotional for me, just seeing him in another uniform, but once the game started and we were getting going, you put your emotions aside really, and you’re trying to beat those guys, you’re trying to get those guys out. We did a good job for a little bit there. He’s a good player, as we all know, right? He’s one of the best. But like I said, seeing him in the other uniform ... it stung.”
Martinez, who played for 16 seasons, was asked if he remembered any similarly franchise-altering trades happening during his own playing days, with the Nationals’ haul boosting their reboot of the organization, while the Padres loaded up for a run at the postseason in 2022.
“I played on teams that got high-profile players, I know that,” Martinez 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 White Sox we lost three of our players that were impact players: Roberto Hernandez, Wilson Alvarez, 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.”
And as he said at the trade deadline, now he has a bunch of new players to get to know and form bonds and friendships with, and some of the players they received in return for Soto and Bell should be up in the near future, with some big league-tested talent, in MacKenzie Gore (currently IL’d with an elbow issue) and C.J. Abrams (currently at Triple-A) while some high-end younger prospects (James Wood, Robert Hassell III, and Jarlin Susana), are already hard at work in the minors, and the big league bat, Luke Voit, has taken on a leadership role early in his time with the Nationals.
“They’re good,” Martinez said, with Gore and Voit joining the team right after the trade. “We get to see — MacKenzie is going to play catch today, so that’s nice, but Luke has been great since he’s been here, he really has. They both have been awesome.”
And how did the return the Nationals received impact the timeline of their organizational reboot?
“You know what, for me it’s just about being — like I always said — being where my feet are,” Martinez said. “I don’t even think about how long it’s going to take to get this back to where we know we can compete and try to win a championship, because who knows how long it’s going to be. There’s so many different things going on right now for our organization, but right now it is about teaching, every moment, of every day, and I’m looking forward to doing that and doing that with a lot more younger players as they come through here. It’s exciting to me. You’re seeing some bright things going on right now, not only here, but in our minor league system.
“I was excited about Josiah [Gray] — after making some adjustments the other day in Chicago, came out and threw 6+ innings, and didn’t walk anybody, which was — to me that was a plus, plus. And Keibert [Ruiz], after working with him about trying to drive balls, goes out and hits two home runs, you know, so that to me is exciting, and I think both of them have an unbelievable future ahead of them, so that to me is very exciting.”