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Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo on trading Juan Soto and Josh Bell, return from San Diego Padres + more...

Mike Rizzo spoke to reporters after the Nationals traded Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres yesterday...

Hours before the 2022 MLB Trade Deadline passed at 6:00 PM last night, the Washington Nationals traded 23-year-old outfielder Juan Soto and 29-year-old switch-hitting infielder Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres for five top prospects and a veteran first baseman/DH, completing one of the bigger trade deadline deals in baseball history:

“The Washington Nationals have acquired top prospects shortstop C.J. Abrams, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III, outfielder James Wood, and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana as well as major league first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit from the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Juan Soto and first baseman Josh Bell on Tuesday. Nationals’ President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.”

Bell, who was in the final year before free agency, was no surprise, a trade candidate from the start this year, barring an extension, but the idea of trading Soto?

San Diego Padres v Detroit Tigers Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Rizzo said just a few weeks back the club had no plans to deal their World Series-winning right fielder, but then Soto turned down a 15-year/$440M extension, and the situation in D.C. changed abruptly, leading the Nats to ultimately make the decision to trade him if a team out there met their significant demands.

Three or four days back, the Nationals’ brass identified a limited group of clubs who had a need, were in contention, and had the prospects to make a deal for a young, controllable, supremely talented player like Soto.

“Obviously we cast a wide net,” Rizzo explained a couple hours before the deadline passed last night, and a couple hours after the trade was announced, “and then as things do, as we narrowed things down closer to last night we finally got to the handful of teams that were actually in it, and then at the end when our demands stayed consistent, then we kind of eliminated the teams and kind of got down to a small number of teams, and then down to two, and then when the Padres reached the tall threshold that we had for this trade, we decided to make the trade.”

At first, it was just Soto for prospects, apparently, but the Nationals wanted Jarlin Susana, an 18-year-old, 6’6’’ right-hander, who, “has pitched to a 2.45 ERA (8 ER/29.1 IP) with 44 strikeouts, 11 walks and a .155 opponents’ batting average in eight games (seven starts) for the Arizona Complex League Padres,” this year, as the team noted in a press release on the deal.

“Josh was — obviously in these things we have several scenarios and several ways we can do a trade,” Rizzo told reporters. “So, Josh was in a couple of them with a couple of teams.

“It started as a one-player [trade] with the Padres, and ended up for us to extract the extra player that we really coveted, we made the decision to put Josh in to get that player.”

Rizzo broke down the entire return the Nationals received for Soto and Bell, going on at length about the “well-rounded package” they decided was worth dealing the franchise player in D.C.

“We really like the five prospects that we got,” Rizzo said.

“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.”

“The big league component, Abrams, C.J., he’s a tooled-up, twitchy type of live-body guy that can really run, really play shortstop, very acrobatic and light on his feet, and he’s got twitchy hands, and really a quick bat,” Rizzo said, drifting into scout speak.

“We see [Abrams] as a five-tool type of talent,” he added. “He can steal you a base, he stays at shortstop, he’s got a good arm, and a guy that can hit at the top of any order.

Philadelphia Phillies v. San Diego Padres Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“MacKenzie Gore is a guy that has been a famous guy, a name for years, finally put it all together at the age of 23, and he’s got big stuff, a big arm from the left side, and came out of the chute very, very strong, and kind of faded out because he’s pitched from limited innings for his whole professional career, so we’re going to go easy with him when he gets here and really kind of take him slow and step-by-step.

“And then you’ve got the big-time tools-y guys in James Wood, who’s a 6’7’’ — a specimen of a body, he’s got big-time power, he was a plus-plus runner and just is a good balance player, and Hassell is — again a five-tool talent that we believe stays in center field, and a guy that can hit, hit with power, play defense, throw, run, and steal bases, and his ceiling is high.”

“They’re all performing well, their analytics were extremely high, and the scouts love them, so it was a good group of guys.”

And then there is Jarlin Susana.

“The youngest, and least known of the group, is possibly the highest upside of the group,” Rizzo said, “that was the piece that we really coveted and really wanted after what we call the elite four, and Susana is an 18-year-old, Dominican right-handed pitcher that’s 6’6’’, he’s got a good, clean delivery, he throws the ball hard, he’s 98, we saw him twice in the last two weeks, he’s up to 102 MPH with a breaking pitch and a good feel for a changeup.

“He’s a guy who is high school age and we believe if he was in this 2022 Draft, he’d have been a high-to-mid first round pick, and that was a player that we really coveted.

“That’s a quick rundown of them. Again, we’ve done a lot of work on them, we’ve seen them for years, we’ve had good history with them, so we felt comfortable with the ask.”

And Voit, the veteran of the group? Rizzo said, “we think will help this year in the mentoring process and that type of thing.”

Eric Hosmer was originally included in the deal, but he vetoed it, taking advantage of his no-trade protections.

“We had three names for that piece of the deal, Hosmer was one of them and Voit was one and there was one other,” Rizzo explained.

Asked about trading a generational talent like Soto, and potentially going down in history as the GM who dealt the “next Ted Williams”, Rizzo bristled at the suggestion.

“I was the guy who signed him too,” he said, “... and I’ll remember Juan as the guy who was with me when I won my first World Series as a General Manager. Now I’m looking to do my next one. So he is a generational player, he’s a wonderful person, and a true gentleman of the game. What can you say about Juan Soto that hasn’t already been said?

“He was the MVP of the playoffs in 2019 as a 20-year-old, he came into the league as a 19-year-old, and when he left today, with tears in our eyes, he thanked me for it.”

The GM in D.C. did acknowledge the club didn’t think they were going to sign Soto to a long-term extension, and the realization led them to make the move they did.

“We did feel that we were not going to be able to extend him,” he said. “And we felt that at this time, with two and a half years remaining, three playoff runs available with Juan Soto, he would never be more at more value than he is today, and that’s what we predicated it on. There was no edict to trade him or not to trade him. It was business as usual. Ownership gave me the latitude to make a good baseball deal if I felt it was a franchise-altering deal, and it turned out we got one to our liking, and it worked.

“And again, kudos to the other side for making it work.”

The original plan on their (totally not a rebuild) reboot was to build the next contender around Soto, so where does the process, which they kicked off with a sell-off of all the expiring deals on the roster at the trade deadline last summer, focus now. Who do they build it around now? And what does this trade do for the whole process?

“I think we’ve taken several steps forward,” Rizzo said. “I think it accelerates the process. I think that you lose a generation talent like that, 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.”

It’s a whole new club now, pretty much, with some young, developing stars remaining, but Rizzo, looking ahead, likes the mix they have and the projected members of the next good team in D.C. have him excited.

Spring Training- Washington Nationals at Houston Astros

“I think the identity is going to be — we’re going to see some of these youthful, speed, fast, quick-twitch-type of players coming to the big leagues,” he said.

“A good team is strong up the middle. And soon you’re going to see a 23-year-old [Keibert] Ruiz, and a 21-year-old Abrams, and a Luis García, and a Jo-Jo [Josiah] Gray, and a [MacKenzie] Gore, and a Cade Cavalli. That is going to be your core, that’s the beginning of the core with a bunch of people coming after that.

“The plan has been activated, it’s been in place. We see it working. And we also see in the big leagues it’s not fun.

‘When we talk about bumpy roads, it’s bumpy, it’s bumpy out there. It’s no fun being the GM when you’re losing all the time.

“I’ve been through it, this is my 40th year in professional baseball, I’ve been through all of it, and it’s way more fun to average 92 wins a year for 10 years, believe me.”

“In 2019, we had a slogan,” he added at another point in his press conference.

“Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. We’re on a bumpy road right now and we believe that coming out of this thing, it will be a beautiful place.”