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

Trea Turner picked up some groundballs on the field at Oracle Park, went to a group of kids to sign autographs, and went into the visitors’ clubhouse to text a good friend Tuesday before the first pitch against the San Francisco Giants write.

The Dodgers shortstop hadn’t reached Juan Soto since the San Diego Padres welcomed the 23-year-old superstar outfielder from the Washington Nationals that 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, in recent weeks, perhaps in Los Angeles as of Wednesday as the Dodgers.

But the Padres are outbidding the Dodgers, so Soto is a division rival instead.

“They did it,” Turner said. “Good for him. I think the idea is just trying to win another World Series and hopefully he’s enjoying that. I know it’s going to be very moving off-road when I go through it for the first time, so it will be different for him.

Turner knows because he made a similar move west from Washington last summer as part of the shock eight-player Nationals bailout 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 have all been dealt out elsewhere. The moves came after the club lost All-Stars Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in the last three off-seasons.

Trading Soto and first baseman Josh Bell, one of the most prolific hitters this season in the National League, on Tuesday was the latest step in ending an era in Washington.

Turner said he believes the Nationals’ decision to sell the team, announced in April, was behind the sweeping changes.

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

The Nationals didn’t want to trade Soto. A team official said it “hurted”. Another said “you never want” to make that decision. But the organization was forced to transfer Soto this summer after he turned down a $440 million 15-year contract extension offer last month.

Soto publicly stated that he wanted to test agency, and the front office believed him. So the team decided to trade it now this summer, when its value will never be higher and talent prices will never be higher than in the hours before the trade close, in order to speed up their recovery.

Another factor: trading Soto before selling the franchise gives the new owner a chance to begin their tenure without making such an unpopular move as trading Soto. In a twisted way, trading in the franchise cornerstone might have made the franchise more appealing.

And that’s a problem, isn’t it? What’s all this about? Soto was a reason to buy a ticket to the stadium. He was every kid’s favorite international in that region. He’s been top notch entertainment for a team in that department since last summer’s liquidation. And it makes your team significantly better.

The Nationals' Juan Soto bats during a game against the New York Mets.

The Nationals’ Juan Soto meets the New York Mets in Washington on Monday.

(Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

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

The takeover required an unprecedented move, as Soto was an unprecedented available asset under team control for two seasons after it was paired with Bell.

The Padres gave up two rookies (pitcher MacKenzie Gore and infielder CJ Abrams) who entered the year on the sport’s top 100 prospects, two prospects (outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood) currently on those lists, and one other interested parties (krug Jarlin Susana presented on the right) with a high ceiling in the deep minor tones. They also traded first baseman Luke Voit with Bell as part of the eight-player package.

“It’s crazy that it actually happened,” said a front office manager from another team. “I’m not sure there’s any precedent, so it’s hard to say if even the five young men they got back is enough.”

The Nationals hope this will speed up their restart. Whether they’ve shed enough talent to warrant a move from Soto is endlessly debated. The answer, based on history, is likely no, but it will be years before the verdict is formed.

A Nationals official estimated that at least half of the teams in the majors had 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 potential Padres. San Diego drafted him in the first round in 2014 before using him six months later in a three-team trade with the Nationals and the Tampa Bay Rays as a player to be named six months later.

The Padres received four players. Wil Myers, who traveled from Tampa Bay, was the only one to make an impression at the big league level. By 2016, it was evident that Turner was the best player in the business. But Wil Myers is not Juan Soto. Trading away Juan Soto brings an end to Nationals’ greatest era

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