“We put our wishlist out there to the teams,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said when he spoke with reporters about trading Juan Soto and Josh Bell to San Diego with hours to go before the trade deadline this past Tuesday.
“We needed a handful, a package of premium prospects, and then we talk after that. So that’s where it began. It eliminated quite a few teams, and we found a team that had the prospects we liked, wanted Soto enough, and we made the deal.
The package they received from the Padres included shortstop C.J. Abrams, left-hander MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III, outfielder James Wood, and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana, along with MLB veteran first baseman/designated hitter Luke Voit.
Abrams, 21, was ranked San Diego’s No. 1 prospect and the No. 9 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. Gore, 23, was ranked the Padres’ No. 4 prospect, according to both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. Hassell, 20, was ranked the No. 21 prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline.com and No. 25 according to Baseball America. Wood, 19, was the No. 3 prospect in the Padres’ system according to MLB Pipeline and the No. 4 prospect per Baseball America. Jarlin Susana, 19, 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.
“We were fortunate that it was kind of a well-rounded package,” Rizzo said.
“We really liked the talent-level of all five of the prospects, and we got a veteran player in Luke Voit which we think will help this year in the mentoring process and that type of thing, but we really like the five prospects that we got. 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.”
After losing both Soto and Bell, though, the 23-year-old wunderkind and a hard-and-switch-hitting, affable first baseman, and with the long list of the players like Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and more, many of whom were a part of the 2019 World Series club, who have departed over the last few years, Rizzo was asked if he understood if fans in the nation’s capital were struggling to make sense of the reboot the club kicked off with a slew of deals at the trade deadline in July of 2021.
“By the way, kudos to the scouting and player development staff for running all those guys through here,” a kind of defiant-ish Rizzo said when the former-Nats above were mentioned.
“We’ve had as good of impact players as anybody in the game. We’ve had stars here throughout our tenure here. We had a 10-year run that was [matched] by few teams.
“We’ve won four division titles, a wild card title, a National League pennant, and a World Series championship.
“You could count on your one hand the teams that could match that success story in the last 10 years.
“And we’re equipped and capable and able to reboot it like we did before, and have a run of 10 years of success.
“We’re further along than we were in 2009 when I took over, after two 100-loss seasons, and we’re excited for our next challenge, to build our next championship-caliber club.”
Allow James Wood to introduce himself.— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) August 6, 2022
The newly acquired No. 4 #Nats prospect cranks a 2-run homer in his organizational debut.
Follow along for what he does next: https://t.co/S5al00OW7L pic.twitter.com/SHvVnQ26Mh
Rizzo was asked what he thought when he looked back on all the talent mentioned above.
“They were all prospects at one time, they were all the Hassells and the Abrams of the world, we traded — people forget — we traded for Trea Turner, and we traded a draft pick that we [drafted, signed, and developed] to get Trea Turner and Joe Ross and developed them within our system, and [Turner] spent six years here as a star big league player. And the list goes on and on. You look at that 2019 team, and you look at how that team was assembled: It was assembled by trades, drafts, and international signings, and that’s a kudos to player development and scouting.”
So Rizzo and Co. in the front office in D.C. are confident they can keep identifying, signing, and developing talent, and the hope is the past few trade deadlines, drafts, and the recent international signing period additions will form the core of D.C.’s next championship team.
How do the trade hauls the last two seasons compare to the draft classes?
“Differently — they’re in different parts, but we went for impactful players, and that’s what we do in the draft. And it’s a kudos to the Padres’ system, they had a bunch of players to choose from, and they were the ones that really piqued our interest and kept us engaged.”
The trade deadline was the culmination of a busy few weeks for the Nationals’ brass, after they picked No. 5 overall in the 2022 Draft, and then did their best to get the top talent in the 19 rounds which followed, before further stocking the system with the deadline deal.
“When you go through the draft preparation, then the draft, then you’re signing your draft picks, then you just get dumped right into this trade deadline stuff and all the business that we had there, we’ve — the front office has been grinding for about three weeks in a row, and this last week was a culmination of a lot of coffee, not much sleep, in the office for 13-14 hours a day just trying to get our plan together, and it was well-run by our front office they’re a great bunch of young guys, and I think we executed our plan very, very well,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this past Wednesday.
As he explained it, the Nationals went into the final leg of the weeks-long effort in a position of strength, and insisted on the deal they wanted if they were going to trade the 23-year-old Soto with two and a half years of team control remaining, after he turned down the 15-year, $440M deal, with, according to Rizzo, no counter-offer or communication outside of saying he wasn’t taking the offer.
“It started out to be a good number of teams interested, obviously,” he explained, “but then when it got down to the ask, and we put the bar extremely high, I mean, we were extremely aggressive with it and we [thought] to ourselves, if someone reaches this bar, then we’ve made a good deal and then we would think about trading Juan. Because he’s such an iconic, great player, we needed to get that iconic return back for him, and if nobody did reach that plateau, then we would keep him.
“It was a position of — pretty much of strength because we were getting the deal we wanted or we weren’t going to do the deal, and only one team met and exceeded the compensation package that we wanted. It was the Padres. Hats off for them for being aggressive and getting a great player.”