We’re a week removed from one of the biggest blockbusters in MLB history, the deal that sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell from the Nationals to the Padres for five young players and first baseman Luke Voit. Jeff Passan of ESPN takes a long look into the process that eventually led to the deal in a piece that’s well worth a read in full.
A Soto trade seemed unfathomable around a month before the deadline, with Washington general manager Mike Rizzo flatly stating the club wouldn’t deal him. That was before Soto passed on a 15-year, $440MM extension offer that apparently represented the Nationals final offer. At that point, Rizzo and his staff reversed course and turned their attention to the trade market. Passan writes the Nationals identified the Padres, Dodgers, Yankees, Cardinals, Mariners, Rays, Rangers and Blue Jays as a preliminary list of teams with the kind of young talent to pull off a deal.
According to Passan, the Nats had whittled that down to a trio of the Cardinals, Dodgers and Padres by the final week of July. With St. Louis reportedly reluctant to include Dylan Carlson in a package that also included a number of top prospects, Los Angeles and San Diego became the final two. Passan relays that San Diego and Washington higher-ups really gathered momentum late into the evening of August 1, the night before the trade deadline. A late entrant to discussions was the inclusion of Bell, one of the top rental bats available, to convince the Friars to part with high-upside 18-year-old pitcher Jarlin Susana. By the middle of the night on August 1-2, Passan reports, the parties agreed to the package of young talent that’d go back to Washington pending review of medical records the next morning. (Passan adds the humorous anecdote that San Diego president of baseball operations A.J. Preller then continued working deep into the night on additional trade possibilities before falling asleep in the middle of a conversation with a member of his scouting staff).
While the initial iteration of the deal included Eric Hosmer going to Washington, the first baseman exercised his limited no-trade protection to block the deal. San Diego pivoted and traded Hosmer to the Red Sox, and Passan writes that San Diego and Washington had each previously agreed that one of Voit or Wil Myers could take Hosmer’s place in the event he refused to waive his no-trade clause.
“We did as well as we could do,” Rizzo opined to Passan. “You lost a Hall of Famer at 23, but I think we expedited our reboot. When you’re looking at the alternative, the same narrative would’ve been out there this winter. If you don’t trade him now, what are you doing in the offseason? I give the Padres’ ownership credit. And I give A.J. credit because he’s not afraid to make a trade like this. And I give our ownership credit.”
Preller went into detail about his team’s involvement in the Soto discussions during an appearance this afternoon on The Show, a podcast from the New York Post with Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman. The San Diego baseball operations leader confirmed the Nationals identified his system as one of a handful that could support a blockbuster of this magnitude early in the process.
“We could tell we were going to be one of the final teams if we wanted to participate,” Preller told the Post. “You never know if you’re going to be the team. It’s like anything else, there’s going to be two or three teams that all have really strong packages. … There was just a lot of debate and discussion for us over the next few weeks about the right thing to do, the right players to give up.”
Once the sides were nearing agreement on the prospect return, the onus fell on San Diego to push the deal across the finish line, Preller explains. “At the end, you have to decide. Do you want to do this or not? That’s kind of the gut-check at the end, when the Nats put it on you: ’this five or six-player package gets it done.’ That’s when you come back into the room with your small group of people and (owner) Peter Seidler. It’s on the table if we want to do this. And if we don’t do it, ultimately we have to live with the fact that he may go elsewhere. … At the end of the day, you have to make that decision.”
Obviously, Preller and his group decided to pull the trigger, although he indicated the club wasn’t narrowly focused on a Soto deal. Preller confirmed to the Post that San Diego was involved in discussions with the Angels about Shohei Ohtani. He said there was some but not entire overlap in the young players of interest to both Washington and Anaheim but indicated the Angels were ultimately unwilling to part with Ohtani. Heyman reported last week that Angels owner Arte Moreno wouldn’t sign off on an Ohtani trade while Mike Trout is on the injured list.
Padres fans and/or anyone interested in additional details about San Diego’s trade talks will want to check out Preller’s interview with Heyman and Sherman in full. Preller also discussed the necessity of balancing a roster with star talent and depth, the acquisition of All-Star reliever Josh Hader from the Brewers, plans for rehabbing star Fernando Tatis Jr., and his team’s struggles against the Dodgers among other topics.