Sports

Trading away Juan Soto brings an end to Nationals’ greatest era

Trea Turner took some groundballs on the field at Oracle Park, walked over to a group of children to sign autographs, and headed into the visitors’ clubhouse to text a good friend Tuesday before first pitch against the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers shortstop hadn’t reached out to Juan Soto since the San Diego Padres received the 23-year-old superstar outfielder from the Washington Nationals in the morning.

The two All-Stars were teammates in Washington for four seasons. They won a World Series in 2019. They envisioned playing together for years — first in Washington and then, over the last couple of weeks, maybe in Los Angeles as Dodgers starting Wednesday.

But the Padres outbid the Dodgers so Soto is a division rival instead.

“They did it,” Turner said. “Good for him. I think the idea is just go and try to win another World Series and hopefully he enjoys that. I know it’s going to be a lot moving cross country, first time going through it so it’s going to be a little different for him.”

Turner knows because he made a similar move out west from Washington last summer as part of the Nationals’ shocking eight-player fire sale 21 months after winning a World Series.

Max Scherzer accompanied Turner to Los Angeles. Kyle Schwarber, Yan Gomes, Daniel Hudson, Josh Harrison, Brad Hand and Jon Lester were all dealt to other locations. The moves came after the club had lost All-Stars Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon over the previous three offseasons.

Trading Soto and first baseman Josh Bell, one of the most productive hitters in the National League this season, on Tuesday was the final move to end an era in Washington that included five playoff appearances over eight seasons between 2012 and 2019.

Turner said he believes the decision of Nationals ownership to sell the team, revealed in April, was behind the radical overhaul.

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“It sucks for the fans,” Turner said. “It sucks. But, like I said, something changed over there. I don’t know if it’s the sale of the team. They probably were, I think, early in 2021 or sometime in 2021, they kind of knew they were going to sell the team and things started changing. So, it’s unfortunate.”

The Nationals didn’t want to trade Soto. One team official said it “hurt.” Another said “you never want” to make that decision. But the organization was impelled to move Soto this summer after he rejected a 15-year, $440-million contract extension offer last month.

Soto publicly stated he wanted to test free agency and the front office believed him. So, the team decided to trade him now, this summer, when his value will never be higher and prices for talent are never more expensive than in the hours before the trade deadline to expedite their rebuild.

Another factor: Trading Soto before selling the franchise gives the new owner the chance to start their tenure without making a move as unpopular as trading Soto. In some twisted way, trading the franchise cornerstone, a reason to buy a ticket to the ballpark, might have made the franchise more attractive.

Nationals’ Juan Soto bats against the New York Mets on Monday in Washington.

(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

“It stinks for the fans, but that’s the vision they see and what [general manager Mike] Rizzo and [principal owner Mark] Lerner want to do,” Turner said.” It’s their decision so unfortunately sometimes the players get caught up in that and whatnot and it’s part of the business. That’s what stinks. You have such a good team then you’re reminded it’s a business and as soon as it doesn’t work out, it’s time to start all over.”

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The acquisition required an unprecedented haul because Soto was an unprecedented available asset under team control for two seasons after this one coupled with Bell.

The Padres surrendered two rookies (pitcher MacKenzie Gore and infielder C.J. Abrams) who entered the year ranked among the top 100 prospects across the sport, two prospects (outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood) currently on those lists, and another prospect (right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana) with a high ceiling in the low minors. They also swapped first baseman Luke Voit with Bell as part of the eight-player package.

“It’s wild that it really happened,” a front office executive with another team said. “I’m not sure there’s a precedent so it’s hard to say if even the five young guys they got back is enough.”

The Nationals hope it will jump-start their reset. Whether they mined enough talent to justify moving Soto will be debated endlessly. The answer, based on history, is likely no, but the verdict will take years to formulate.

One Nationals official estimated that half of the teams in the majors at least inquired about Soto. But he found it “eye-opening” that more clubs weren’t more aggressive. In the end, the Dodgers and Padres were the two finalists.

Turner was once a Padres prospect. San Diego drafted him in the first round in 2014 before putting him in a three-team trade with the Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays as a player to be named six months later.

The Padres received four players. Wil Myers, who arrived from Tampa Bay, was the only one to make an impact at the big league level. By 2016, it was obvious Turner was the best player in the trade. But Wil Myers is not Juan Soto, and most players don’t become Trea Turner.

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