Davey Martinez got emotional and even 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 trade deadline on August 2, 2022.
Soto debuted in the majors as a 19-year-old in 2018, in Martinez’s first season on the bench as the skipper in the nation’s capital, and they won a World Series together in ‘19, so it’s understandable Martinez reacted like he did when the then-22, now-25-year-old Soto was actually dealt (along with Bell) in the 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 said.
“I can remember the first time 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.”
Not long after the trade, Martinez and his club faced Soto and the Padres, and the manager was asked how he was dealing with seeing his one-time charge in the other club’s dugout.
“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,” Martinez said. “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.”
A year and a half later, two of the players acquired from the Padres (Abrams and Gore) are on the Nationals’ big league roster, and those younger prospects (Wood, No. 2; Hassell III, No. 8; Susana, No. 12), are near the top of the list of MLB Pipeline’s organizational rankings, and working their way up, and the Nats’ skipper… is still being asked about Soto.
When Martinez met with reporters at the Winter Meetings earlier this month, a reporter asked how the manager thought Soto would handle playing in New York if the rumors of a pending deal were true.
Q. Do you have any doubt that he can handle a place like New York?
DAVE MARTINEZ: No.
DAVE MARTINEZ: He loves to play the game of baseball. I tell you a story, first time I ever met him, I just asked him, I said, hey, what motivates you, what drives you to be? And the first thing he says is, I love baseball. That’s all I want to do.
So he’ll handle it very well.
Asked about his experience managing Soto between 2018-22, Martinez said simply, “I love him.”
“I said this since I’ve known the kid. I love him. He’s a competitor. He’s one of the purest hitters in the game. He’s a game changer. I’ve always wished him the best.
“Whoever does get him, if San Diego decides to keep him, they know they got a good one.
“But wherever he ends up, they’re going to get a good player.”
How does he assess the deal with the Padres now, in hindsight?
“Looking at it now? I think we did all right,” Martinez said.
“Yeah. But building up to that, you just don’t know. We just knew what we had at hand. I look at CJ, what he’s done, I look at James Wood who is coming up, all these young players that we got for him, we’re doing okay.”
Barring an extension in NY, Soto is set to become a free agent this winter… think that $15-year/$440M offer he turned down is back on the table next winter so he can return to the nation’s capital and play alongside the players who came over in the trade?