When he spoke to reporters this past Sunday afternoon, 48 hours-ish out from the 2022 MLB Trade Deadline, where his was the biggest name being bandied about, leaving his future in doubt, Juan Soto said he just wanted to get it all over with so he could find out where he’d be playing.
“I want to get it over with and see what’s going to happen. Just go over that day and start over here or wherever I’m at,” the 23-year-old slugger said.
Soto said he wasn’t letting the rumors and the possibility he might get dealt affect him or get him off his game.
“No focus on that, I just see the jersey you’re wearing,” he said.
“You’re wearing a Nationals jersey, you’re here, and right now I’m here and I’m a National. So I just go out there as a professional, as a National, and I just play for them as hard as I can.
“It doesn’t matter whatever they’re saying, whatever the rumors, stuff like that, I’m going to give my 100% every time I’m wearing this jersey.”
In what was potentially at that point Soto’s final game for the organization he signed with in 2015, out of the Dominican Republic, came up with in 2018, and won a World Series with in 2019, in his second big league season, he went 1 for 1 with a home run (off Max Scherzer), and three walks, adding to his MLB-high walk total with two free passes from the New York Mets’ starter and one off the NY bullpen.
“Hey, Juan’s Juan, right?” manager Davey Martinez said of Soto staying focused and patient at the plate in spite of the turmoil. “He comes in, he plays hard and, like I’ve been telling him for the last week and a half, I said, ‘Hey, you just gotta control what you can control, go out there and have fun and play baseball.’ And he’s been doing that. Once again, today his at-bats were really good. His at-bats the other day were really good. I mean, the biggest thing with him is accepting his walks. If they’re gonna walk you, let them walk you, and you got a couple guys behind you that can hit the ball, too. So he’s been doing that.”
That was Monday night. Soto was at the ballpark on Tuesday, waiting out the deadline, but early in the day news started to trickle out that the Nationals and San Diego Padres were in the process of working out a deal.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning, after trading both Soto and Josh Bell to the Friars for a package of five high-end prospects and major leaguer Luke Voit, he kept Soto and Bell informed throughout the day as the 2022 deadline approached.
“I had kept Juan and Josh in the loop on where we were at during the trade talks and that type of thing,” Rizzo explained, “... because I think it’s only right to inform them, because they’re reading all the stuff that’s out there and that type of thing. So, they were kept in the loop. I had called Juan earlier that day, that morning and told him that there’s nothing imminent, but we are making momentum, so it’s a possibility, just to protect him and warn him against all the social media stuff out there. And then when we made the trade, I did go down there and had a nice conversation with Juan. He thanked me for signing him and kind of discovering him down in the Dominican, and the way we developed him and the relationships that he had with the coaches and that type of thing. And it was a warm farewell, and it was very emotional, and I told him I loved him and he’ll always be a part of my history and my family, and go on and have the career that we all think you’re gonna have. And that was it. But yeah, we signed him at 16-and-a-half years old. I had known him since he was 14. It was... yeah, it’s a very emotional time.”
Five years into his MLB career, with two and a half years left before free agency, Soto was traded for the first time. Just weeks earlier, on the same radio show, Rizzo assured fans in the nation’s capital the club was not going to trade the right fielder in D.C., so how did things change so quickly?
As Rizzo explained it, Soto and his agent Scott Boras turning down the Nats’ 15-year/$440M extension offer got the process going, and ultimately led to the trade.
“That statement was made with all the right intent in mind,” Rizzo told the Junkies yesterday of the previous statement he’d made about not trading Soto.
“We believed that we were gonna build a team around Juan. But then two historical offers that were said no to, no communication, and no counter offers,” he continued, “... we got the impression that we weren’t gonna be able to extend Juan beyond his contract and he was going to become a free agent. So we had to change our plan.
“The landscape and the plans are fluid and we felt that, when thinking about it and thinking that we were really still unable to extend Juan, we felt that if we got the right offer, we at least needed to look at all of our options. And we did.”
The right offer ended up including shortstop C.J. Abrams, 21, San Diego’s No. 1 prospect and the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, left-hander MacKenzie Gore, 23, the Padres’ No. 4 prospect, according to both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, Robert Hassell III, 20, the No. 21 prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com and No. 25 according to Baseball America, outfielder James Wood, 19, the No. 3 prospect in the Padres’ system according to MLB Pipeline and the No. 4 prospect per Baseball America, Jarlin Susana, 19, and, “... the consensus No. 1 ranked pitcher in the 2022 international signing class,” as the Nationals wrote in their press release on the trade, and the No. 10 prospect in San Diego’s system, and Luke Voit, the veteran major leaguer in the package, who is the only one expected to join the big league roster right away.
“The sixth player in the deal we knew was going to be a big league player,” Rizzo told the Junkies, “with a major league component on it, and there was a list of several players there that would be with us, and the Padres just had to work out which player it was. We put in a block of players, kind of a player to be named later, and they were going to name the player later and they did.”
The Nationals got the sort of package they said it would take for them to even consider the idea of trading Soto.
In the end, Rizzo was asked, was there a number the Nats could have put on the table which would have convinced Soto to sign on long-term in D.C.?
“I don’t know,” Rizzo said. “The agent, [Boras], has a history of taking most, or all, of their superstar players to free agency. And just the tenor and the tone of our conversations led us to believe that you could — we made three offers in the last year to Juan and none of them were countered, and there was not much discussion besides, ‘No, we’re not gonna take that offer.’ So it’s what I kind of read into it, and knowing the uncertainties of the ownership situation, we felt that it was unlikely that he’s gonna sign an extension before he went to free agency.”
The blow of dealing Max Scherzer and Trea Turner (in a flurry of moves) at the deadline last July 30th was softened some by the arrival in D.C. of two of the four prospects acquired in the deal with the LA Dodgers, with both Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz playing in the majors by the end of the season. How long will it be before fans see some of the prospects they’ve just acquired in the big leagues?
“A couple will be on the big club relatively soon,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “C.J. Abrams is a 21-year-old kind of an electrifying shortstop that we’re sending him to Triple-A for now, just to get his feet wet in the organization like we did with Keibert Ruiz the year before. That transition period coming from the only organization that you’ve ever been in to a new organization across the country is difficult, so we wanted to make that transition easier. So, but we should see him in the near future.
“MacKenzie Gore has a chance to be a front-line starting pitcher to put in the mix with Gray and [Cade] Cavalli and [Cole] Henry, and that group of young arms, and once he gets over this little arm injury, then he should be able to come to the big leagues, and the rest of them are outstanding, exciting, high-end, impact possible prospects, and prospects come at their own pace. We brought three players at 19 to the big leagues in the past, so to me chronological age is not the factor. It’s when a player is ready to pitch and play in the big leagues, we bring them, and they all come and they all develop on a different timeline.”
As for the elbow injury which landed Gore on the IL in late July? Rizzo said on Tuesday the club was satisfied with what they saw in the medical reports.
“The injury did make things a little bit more complicated, a little bit more work, we had to do a lot of due-diligence medically, but there was nothing hidden and the reports and the MRIs were viewed, and the doctor gave us the thumbs up to compete the trade. We were happy to get him. We really see an upside, left-handed starting pitcher in the big leagues for years to come that we control for a long time,” Rizzo said.
“People who actually went to medical school have had no concerns with it, so we trust our medical staff,” he assured the Junkies on Wednesday.
Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office are hoping the last few draft classes, the last two trade deadline hauls, international signings, and the other young players in the system and in the majors already, will become the core of the next competitive team in D.C.
“We’ve put ourselves in the position to have sustained success and we’re hoping that this trade, the last trade deadline, the last couple of drafts, have allowed us ... to supplement the talent base.
“Our goal is to win championships. and I would say to the fanbase, just look at our record compared to everybody else’s record. We’re right there with the best of them. We’ve won a world championship recently. We’ve won division titles. And we’ve put a good consistent, competitive product on the field. We’ve taken a downturn right now. There’s no question about it, but I see — history is the best indicator and through the last downturn we had, we went on to have a decade of success after that, and that’s our goal and that’s our plan to do it and do it as quickly as possible.”
Just talked to Soto. He said he has no hard feelings toward Rizzo or the Nationals and admitted he never actually thought it would happen. Said Boras woke him up with a call yesterday telling him it would likely happen. Still surprised him when it did.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) August 3, 2022
Soto, of course, walked in his first plate appearances for the Padres last night in San Diego.