Nationals trade Juan Soto to Padres alongside Josh Bell in monumental MLB trade deadline deal

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After a whirlwind three weeks, Juan Soto is on the move. The Washington Nationals reportedly traded their young superstar to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday alongside star first baseman Josh Bell, hours ahead of MLB's 6 p.m. trade deadline, Yahoo Sports' Hannah Keyser confirmed. MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported the deal.

The Padres announced the deal hours later.

With the blockbuster deal, Padres executive A.J. Preller adds two of the best hitters available and sets up the potential for a Soto-Manny Machado-Fernando Tatis Jr. lineup combo for at least three playoff runs. Going back to the Nationals is a trove of young players and prospects. The package involves young shortstop CJ Abrams and starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore, who has impressed as a rookie this season. Also included are top prospect Robert Hassell III, rising prospect James Wood and and several others.

One hangup with the deal involved Eric Hosmer, who was originally included in the deal. He reportedly rejected his inclusion in the Washington deal through his limited no-trade clause, and was later dealt to the Boston Red Sox. The first baseman has three years and $39 million left on his contract after this season, and the Padres were looking to move him in hopes of staying under the competitive balance tax. Eventually, first baseman Luke Voit was added to Washington's side to complete the deal.

Those young players will be part of a full rebuilding project in Washington, while Soto will head to a team fully planning to use him for a playoff run this year, and potentially for a decade-plus. The deal ends a saga played in fast forward that saw Soto go from untouchable franchise face to the trade block to "member of the San Diego Padres" in less than a month.

A 23-year-old hitting demigod whose only real forebear is Ted Williams will now go play in the Splendid Splinter's hometown.

Will Juan Soto sign an extension?

With Soto now in another uniform, the new question is how long he will stay in that uniform.

Soto has 2 1/2 years of team control remaining, then hits free agency after the 2024 season. He has already turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension offer from the Nationals that would have been the biggest contract in MLB history by total money, though the $29.3 million average annual value was below what his elite MLB peers are making.

The Nationals offloaded Soto because they didn't think they would be able to keep him long-term, and now it's up to Preller and the Padres to handle the same issue. With Scott Boras as his agent, it seems very possible Soto waits to hit the open market before deciding his future.

All signs point to Juan Soto being a future Hall of Famer

Driving all the Soto speculation is the plain fact that few, if any, MLB players have hit the trade market with a resume like Soto's at an age like Soto's.

In five MLB seasons, Soto has hit .291/.427/.538 with 119 homers, a clip unheard of from a player his age this millennium. His plate discipline is elite of elite, and he has found his power enough to win this year's Home Run Derby.

Add in his big-time hitting in Washington's 2019 playoff run, and you have a guy with virtually zero red flags, and historic potential.

This season has been an off year for Soto, but even though he's hitting below .250, his 158 OPS+ — a park-adjusted measure of overall offensive performance — is still among the best in MLB. Players like this come around once in a generation, and pretty much all of them end up hearing their names called in Cooperstown (barring extenuating circumstances).

The only question with Soto is just how much better can he get.

How the Nationals ended up trading Juan Soto

Rewind all the way back to 2019. The Washington Nationals are World Series champions. They may no longer have Bryce Harper, but they still have a collection of All-Stars like Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Trea Turner, Patrick Corbin and, of course, Soto.

Soto was 20 years old that season and already an elite hitter. Any MLB club serious about contending would want him on their team, and it would make sense for the Nationals to do everything they could to sign him for the long term. So why are they trading him?

Well, short answer, the Nationals have been a disaster since hoisting that trophy. Rendon left in free agency. Strasburg returned on a new contract but has made eight starts since then and is now dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome, often a death knell for pitchers. Corbin has become arguably the worst starting pitcher in the league. The team was bad enough it traded Scherzer and Turner at last year's deadline rather than try to keep them in free agency.

Meanwhile, no homegrown stars have emerged to pick up the slack, as the Nationals have whiffed on pretty much every first-round draft pick from 2013 to 2019.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 26: Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto (22) looks on during the MLB game between the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 26, 2022 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Not even Juan Soto could fix the Nationals' problems. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Nationals have gone from 93 wins (and a ring) in 2019 to a 70-win pace in the shortened 2020 season, 65 wins in 2021 and now a 56-win pace this season. It is going to take years for them to get back to playoff contention, and Soto wouldn't have been much help to them if he was leaving after the 2024 season.

So the trade speculation was unavoidable for Soto this season once the Nationals again looked like a dumpster fire. Things kicked into overdrive when Soto turned down that $440 million contract last month, and now he's headed to a new team, because his old one didn't want to meet his price and benefited little from having him in the short term.

Soto, Bell join Padres alongside Josh Hader, Brandon Drury

The Padres didn't just add Soto. They pulled off a surprise bullpen addition Monday by dealing for star Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader. And Tuesday afternoon they swapped a prospect for Brandon Drury, a play-anywhere utility man having a career year for the Cincinnati Reds.

While San Diego has played plenty well enough to make the playoffs feel assured, the team came into the deadline looking a little lopsided. The lineup outside of Manny Machado has not lived up to the standards of a stellar rotation, and the bullpen has been merely average.

By wRC+, a park-adjusted measure of offensive performance, the Padres have acquired their best, third-best and fourth-best hitters of 2022 Tuesday, lending Machado far more backup as they await the return of Fernando Tatis Jr.

Though they are almost certainly not going to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West — it's currently a 12-game lead — the Padres look much more formidable in a short playoff series.

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