Juan Soto trade grades: Padres get 'A' for landing generational hitter; low marks for Nats despite big haul
Tue, Aug 2, 2022
MLB News (AP)
The Padres and Nationals agreed to the biggest trade of the summer hours ahead of Tuesday's deadline, with San Diego netting star outfielder Juan Soto and first baseman Josh Bell. In exchange, Washington receives'Luke Voit and a handful of young players: shortstop C.J. Abrams, left-hander MacKenzie Gore, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, and right-hander Jarlin Susana.
The Padres have made a habit out of splash moves during A.J. Preller's tenure as general manager. This one is the biggest, as it nets San Diego a 23-year-old who is on a Hall-of-Fame track and who is under team control for an additional two seasons. The Nationals, for their part, do receive a number of young players, a few of whom might become great in Washington. They now move forward, likely under new ownership, without the possibility of being competitive for at least a few years.
We here at AP Sports are nothing if not judgmental, and that means offering near-instant analysis on big trades this time of the year. Below, you'll find grades for both the Padres and the Nationals, along with explanations for those assessments.'
With that out of the way, let's begin by recapping the deal:
- OF Juan Soto
- 1B Josh Bell
- 1B Luke Voit
- SS C.J. Abrams
- LHP MacKenzie Gore
- OF Robert Hassell III
- OF James Wood
- RHP Jarlin Susana
Padres grade: A
Professional baseball is, at its core, part of the entertainment industry. We try to overlook that reality most of the time on the grounds that we want baseball to be something greater, something more. Accepting that baseball is part of the entertainment industry is not a bad thing, and it doesn't preclude those romantic feelings. No one has ever held it against films or music. Acknowledging baseball as entertainment foremost, and stripping away the dogmatic devotion to it as Something Greater, becomes a problem only when you don't find the product entertaining.'
Padres fans have been there and done that. They've spent summers watching a lifeless product that was fronted by Chris Denorfia, Will Venable, and Chase Headley wearing those forgettably generic uniforms. We mean no disrespect to that trio of players, but you can empathize with any Padres fan who is pinching themselves today, realizing that they'll be taking in the fall beholding a souped-up trio of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Juan Soto. (They'll be wearing technicolor jerseys, too.)
No executive seems to understand and appreciate the entertainment side of things more so than A.J. Preller. Say what you will about his trades and his methods (and other teams quip on his freewheeling ways all the time) but the man knows how to energize his fan base by making splashy moves involving big names, all in the pursuit of winning the first World Series in franchise history.
Whether or not the Padres accomplish that goal -- and they look better suited to do it than at any time prior -- they're sure going to have fun trying, and they're going to sell a lot of tickets and merchandise along the way.'
Soto is one of the best hitters, and therefore one of the best players in the majors. To illustrate the point, he's having his worst season (as judged by OPS+) of the Pandemic Era. He's still hitting .246/.408/.485 with far more walks than strikeouts. If your "lows" entail reaching base 40.8 percent of the time and a .240 ISO ... then, friends, that's a clue that you're dealing with an elite talent. Soto is; there's a reason people keep tossing around names like Ted Williams when they discuss his place in the game.
For those who haven't had the joy of watching Soto play consistently, he does everything you could want at the plate. He has an excellent command over the strike zone; he has good bat-to-ball skills, allowing him to make contact at above-average rates; and his barrel awareness is such that he's consistently posted average exit velocities that rank near the top of the league. The only real knock on Soto is that his defense is often substandard, but that's a trivial issue given his offense.
Adding Soto to an already good roster for up to three playoff runs is the kind of opportunity that doesn't come around often. It's the kind of high-leverage maneuver where any cost is justified, even if it means mostly emptying out what remains of your farm system. The Padres did such here, though they were able to hold onto a few interesting youngsters, including catcher Luis Campusano and infielder Jackson Merrill. Again, the cost almost pays for itself when you're acquiring a player of Soto's caliber for multiple years. That the Padres got more than just Soto here is hard to fathom -- and that the "more" is another good, in-demand player ... well, jeez.
Bell is an impending free agent who represents a clear upgrade over Eric Hosmer. In 103 games this season, he's hit .301/.384/.493 (152 OPS+) with 14 home runs and just 12 fewer walks than strikeouts (69). It's not everyday you can add a batter who can hit for average, walk, and slug -- the Padres added two on Tuesday, giving them a deeper, more robust lineup for what's likely to be an October gauntlet.'
Even so, there's no guarantee the Padres advance beyond the wild card round. It's a best-of-three series and weird stuff happens in three-game series all the time in this sport. But it seems like whenever baseball people invoke probabilistic analysis these days, it's to justify standing down or standing pat. Our team had only a 20 percent shot at the playoffs, what were we supposed to do? What Preller seems to say instead is: what if we treated the odds like a reference, not a guide; nothing secures the numbers being a fait accompli like teams treating them as one. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets have a lot of impact talent, they sure do; the only way to beat that is with impact talent of your own. The Padres have their share now, and that's all thanks to Preller.
It may work, it may not. Give Preller this much: baseball has been a heck of a lot more entertaining, in San Diego and elsewhere, because of him.
Nationals grade: D
It doesn't matter who the Nationals received in return for Soto. It never did. The reality is that you've already lost if you find yourself trading a 23-year-old on a Hall-of-Fame track who has several more years of team control remaining. History supports the notion that it's next to impossible to receive equal value for a player of Soto's caliber, and it seems unlikely that this deal will prove to be the exception, even if some of the returning youngsters go on to have solid or better careers. Since it sometimes needs to be stated outright: this grade is a reflection on the situation at hand, trading away a face-of-the-franchise amid these circumstances, more so than the players.'
The most generous reading of this deal is that the Lerners, who are selling the franchise, took the publicity relations hit for trading Soto so that the next owners could come in with a clean slate. How kind. The subtext -- the Lerners being aware that the next owners wouldn't want to extend Soto, either -- should not be lost on anyone. (Remember that whole spiel about how baseball is part of the entertainment industry? Here's the other side of it.) You have to feel for general manager Mike Rizzo. Do you think he's memorized his farewell speech by now? Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and now Soto. All gone in a handful of years.
Voit, 31, is the most accomplished player the Nationals received, even if he was Plan B after Eric Hosmer vetoed his own inclusion in the trade. Voit has another two seasons of team control remaining and will serve an immediate purpose as a handy replacement for Bell. He's an above-average hitter with good strength and a willingness to walk. Voit's strikeout rate has climbed the past two years, suggesting the Nationals may want to look to move him this winter before his floor drops.
Abrams and Gore are the actual headliners almost by default, as they've resided near the top of prospect lists for years and have each since debuted in the majors. Each has had an understandably rough introduction to the big-league game, however.
Abrams, 21, is a speedy shortstop who batted .232/.285/.320 (77 OPS+) with 23 more strikeouts than walks in his first 139 trips to the plate. He isn't far removed from being held as the reason Fernando Tatis Jr. would move off shortstop, which speaks to how the Padres and the industry viewed him. That assessment might be hard to reconcile with his play in the majors, but it's worth remembering that the Padres hastened his arrival. He had appeared in just 42 games above A-ball when he made his big-league debut, and those came before he suffered a season-ending leg injury last summer.
Some evaluators have expressed concern about Abrams' swing decisions and quality of contact in the past. Those worries appear prescient so far: his chase rate was over 40 percent and he had an average exit velocity in the mid-80s. Not ideal. The question is whether or not Abrams can settle in as he gains some much-needed experience against higher-level competition. We're willing to hold out hope that the answer is yes, which would, in turn, make him a high-quality shortstop in due time.
Gore, 23, made 16 appearances (most of them starts) and accumulated a 4.50 ERA (84 ERA+ and a 1.95 strikeout-to-walk ratio before recently going on the injured list with a sore elbow. He's unlikely to pitch again until September, and the Nationals would be within reason to shut him down for the year and let him begin anew next spring.'
Gore being in position to log any big-league innings this season was a win itself, as it signaled a victory over an apparent bout with the yips -- that is, an often unexplainable stretch of wildness. The Padres used him out of the bullpen late in his stay with the team, but he has a full arsenal -- a mid-90s fastball and signature curveball that stand out as his best offerings, as well as a slider and seldom-used changeup -- and should get the chance to start moving forward.'
The catch with Gore is that the combination of his current injury and past wildness make it hard to forecast his future with any real accuracy. He could be a mid-rotation starter, he could be a little more or a lot less depending on how things go.
Hassell and Wood are both outfielders and recent high draft picks.
Hassell, 21 in less than a fortnight, projects to have a good hit tool. He hasn't yet tapped into his raw power the way scouts have wanted to see from him since he went No. 8 overall in 2020, and it's unclear if he'll stick in center field for the long haul. If Hassell does slide to a corner, it puts even more pressure on him unlocking his pop.
Wood, 19 and a second-round pick last summer, is listed at 6-foot-7. He has massive raw power and he moves better than you'd expect for someone that size. Evaluators had concerns about his tendency to swing and miss as an amateur, but he's made gains in that department. This season in A-ball, he's struck out in less than 20 percent of his trips to the plate. There's middle-of-the-lineup potential here if Wood can continue to place the bat on the ball consistently as he moves up the ladder.
Susana, 18, is a big right-hander who hasn't pitched higher than the complex league. He has a good fastball and a promising breaking ball. There's a chance he turns into a high-quality pitcher, the building blocks are present; there's also a chance he turns into a reliever, or never pitches in the majors. So it goes with complex arms.
These additions leave the Nationals with an improved farm system, but even more than that, they solidify Washington's system as being one of the highest variance in the game. There's a wide range of outcomes possible for Hassell, Wood, Susana and some of the players already in place, like recent top picks Elijah Green and Brady House, as well as top international signing Cristhian Vaquero. The Nationals' reputation for player development has slipped in recent years. Helping a few of the players above "click" would go a long way in reversing that slide.