baseball

With Juan Soto and Josh Hader, the Padres are all-in for a World Series

The franchise started in 1969, another expansion team in funny uniforms that lost 110 games. Five decades passed, a few Hall of Famers but no championships. Then, after years of aggressive spending and trades by the front office, Juan Soto led the team all the way.

That scenario was on display when he finally won a World Series for the Washington Nationals in 2019. The San Diego Padres are hoping for a sequel of their own.

The Padres — expansion cousins ​​of the Montreal Expos, who eventually moved to Washington — weren’t particularly close to a title. His last scheduled World Series game was Game 7 against the Yankees on October 25, 1998 in the Bronx. He advanced and never played the game. That was the day Soto was born in the Dominican Republic.

Soto is now a Padre, with an almost uneventful start to the next phase of his career. With his age-23 season still in progress, here are some of the 10 players most similar to Trout in history until Soto was 22 years old, according to Baseball Reference.

Soto is very good. That’s why he can confidently reject a $440 million contract offer from the Nationals last month. That’s why he ordered an exorbitant package of players from the Nationals in a deal that rocked the sport at Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Washington sent switch-hitting forces Soto and Josh Bell at first base to San Diego for first baseman Luke Voight and five young players: shortstop CJ Abrams, pitcher Mackenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III, pitcher Jarlin Susana and outfielder James Wood. All are considered amateurs who have bested their hopes so far. None have yet played a full season in the majors.

The move leaves the Nationals with almost nothing from their championship team, discouraging reminders of bad investments and false potential. Stephen Strasburg earns $35 million but can’t escape injury. Patrick Corbin, who makes $23.3 million, is 15-38 since the World Series. Outfielder Victor Robles, once a top-five prospect in the sport.

The team isn’t ready to win before Soto’s free agency after the 2024 season. Now by trading Soto — with three potential postseason runs for the acquiring team — the Nationals got exceptional value in return. Building around Soto might be a good option, but it’s a risky bet with a team for sale and agent Scott Boras’ history of extracting top dollar in free agency.

The Nationals eagerly chased Boras’ best customer. General manager Mike Rizzo, backed by Lerner family ownership, built five playoff teams in eight seasons through 2019, mostly through team Boras members such as Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Soto, Strasburg and Jason Werth.

But when you play at a high-stakes table, you can lose just as much as you win. And now the Nationals are losing more than any other team.

The Padres also seem to be in for a big fall — finally. They cannot sustain their spending levels in dollars and prospective capital forever. But his general manager, AJ Preller, spent years preparing for life as a contender, and now he’s living the fantasy.

Few of his peers collect high-impact prospects like Preller, and few are willing to part with him. Over the past few seasons, Preller has traded for a full rotation of established starters in their primes: Mike Clevinger, Yu Darvish, Sean Manaea, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell.

In 2019, he convinced ownership to make third baseman Manny Machado the first $300 million player in baseball history, then gave shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. even more before last season: $340 million over 14 years. Tatis was just 17 when Preller was stolen from the Chicago White Sox in a 2016 trade for James Shields.

The deal involving Soto and Bell isn’t the only important one for the Padres at the deadline: Josh Hodder, a four-time All-Star closer, arrived in a trade with Milwaukee on Monday, and the versatile Brandon Drury (.274 with 20 home runs) joined in a deal with Cincinnati on Tuesday.

The team parted ways with first baseman Eric Hosmer, who was initially part of the Soto trade, but was instead sent to the Boston Red Sox after invoking his limited no-trade clause.

All of this has been a long time coming for the Padres — a long, long time. They endured nine consecutive losing seasons before making the playoffs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the only season since 1998 with a victory in the playoff round.

Last year started with promise but ended with a thud: 18 games over .500 on Aug. 10, the Padres were four games into the season. They fired manager Jace Tingler and signed Bob Melvin — a three-time Manager of the Year winner — away from Oakland.

Tatis hasn’t played this season after breaking his wrist in an off-season motorcycle accident, but he should begin a rehab assignment soon. Melvin already has the Padres in playoff position at 58-46 heading into Monday — and he still hasn’t written Bell, Soto or Tatis to the team. That’s an absolute thump to boost league-average offense, and the Padres already have a top-10 pitching staff.

Many other teams could only dream of a deep postseason run — the Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, Mets and Braves all entered Tuesday’s trade deadline with a .600 winning percentage or better. He wants the elite of the majors and the Padres to join them.

Those five franchises, of course, have something else the Padres lack: a World Series championship. Soto is gone from the Nationals before his 24th birthday, and sad about it. But now he has a chance to lift the second team to its first march, and that quest will be fascinating.

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