2022 MLB trade deadline grades: Breaking down the Juan Soto deal, a perplexing Yankees decision and more
The MLB trade deadline has come and gone. Led by Juan Soto, a barrage of stars changed places, while several eyebrow-raising names stayed put. Now it’s time to sift through the rearranged teams as the dust settles and see who came out ahead.
For each major deal, we broke down the pieces on the move and the logic behind the trades. As always, baseball is hard to predict, so what looks like a C+ trade now could easily turn into an A+ trade with a swing adjustment or a new pitch.
Padres acquire Juan Soto, Josh Bell from Nationals for 1B Luke Voit, pitcher MacKenzie Gore, SS C.J. Abrams, OF prospects Robert Hassell III and James Wood, pitching prospect Jarlin Susana
There’s a lot to unpack here — a lot of names, a lot of dollars, a lot of future years to consider — but then again, there’s also very little.
The San Diego Padres swapped a lot of uncertainty for one huge sure thing: They will have Juan Soto for three full-fledged runs at the city’s first World Series, and can pop him into a stunningly fun lineup alongside Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. Over 2 1/2 years, they will have exclusive negotiating rights to try to keep him in San Diego and emblazon their logo on his eventual Hall of Fame plaque, if things keep rolling. In the world of what we actually know today, the only logical accounting of this deal is that A.J. Preller and the title-hungry Padres took advantage of a compromised Washington Nationals organization worried more about its sale price than the product on the field.
The deal wasn’t without drama. First baseman Eric Hosmer was originally part of the transaction, but vetoed his inclusion through his no-trade clause. He was eventually shipped to Boston while Luke Voit was added to the Nationals’ haul.
From the moment Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo put Juan Soto on the market, he was signing up to lose a significant trade. From the moment he and the Lerner family ownership group drew a red line at paying Soto — a 23-year-old megastar who could be the best hitter in baseball in a decade — less than $30 million a year, they were choosing the whims of a roulette wheel over the best chips in the house. They are doing that because of money, because of that uncertain ownership situation, because of whatever, but the outcome is the same: They are giving up at least 2 1/2 years of a generational talent, and any opportunity to bask in the untold glories of all the years after that.
So keep that in mind. We also must wade into the details. Technically, the Nationals did this for a package of young players who could help them contend again in a few years.
Abrams and Gore have already reached the majors, with varying results. Abrams can make contact, but lacks strong pitch selection and power. He’s extremely fast, and figures to tally plenty of stolen bases, but his defense is questionable at shortstop, and he may wind up moving to a less valuable outfield spot.
Gore, a lefty starter who uses a very high leg kick, was an elite prospect a few years ago before losing his control, but he has rebounded and looked strong this season in his first MLB exposure. There’s a chance he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter, but also significant risk that he winds up something less exciting, like a relief ace or an oft-injured back-end rotation piece. Oh, and he’s only six months younger than Soto.
The most certain MLB contributor in this deal might be Hassell. He’s only 20 and playing in High-A, but scouts are certain he can hit. Meanwhile, the moonshot prospect is the 6-foot-7 Wood. He’s even younger — still 19 — but has wowed scouts in his first taste of professional ball. In 50 games of A-ball this year, he has 10 homers and 15 steals with a .337 batting average. He’s also several years from helping Washington. Susana is a similarly far away prospect who packs promise but little pro experience.
If there’s any credit to be given to the Nationals, it should be for taking on Gore and Abrams, who could provide immediate excitement, and for not diminishing their return by including Patrick Corbin’s contract.
Still, as we’ve learned from deals like the one that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit, or the two that landed Mike Piazza in New York, it’s incredibly difficult to match the value of a star as good as Soto. Young baseball players don’t develop exactly as you expect, or as you hope. ZiPS, a projection system at FanGraphs, forecasts that Soto will be worth 18.3 WAR over the next 2 1/2 years. For any individual player headed back to the Nationals, it would be an incredible outcome if they were that good over six or seven years — roughly the career of Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, who has made two All-Star teams and won a batting title.
Giving up on a Soto extension this early facilitated a greater prospect return than they otherwise would have managed, sure, but it also preemptively snuffed out any chance of keeping the most promising player the franchise has ever known. That’s all before you consider that the Nationals, for the second straight year, tossed in their second-best trade chip alongside their best one without gaining any clear benefit from it. Bell is a switch-hitting first baseman walloping the baseball this year — to the tune of a .301/.384/.493 line that is almost as good as Soto’s. He’s under contract only for the rest of the year, but plenty of teams could have used his bat.
This entire deal smacks of convenient ledger manipulation for an ownership group about to cash out. Under the cover of a 2019 title and Soto rejecting a non-serious extension offer, they will market the franchise to prospective buyers as one with fewer financial obligations and one huge PR landmine absorbed. For that audience of one, maybe it’s a winning deal to have a bad team and no Juan Soto, since it won’t be their fault.
For the audience of many Nationals fans, it won’t ever be a winning deal. I don’t know if generations of them will rue the day they made this trade. There are too many factors involved in the burgeoning legend of a 23-year-old’s career, much less in the amoeba stages of a 19-year-old’s. If they don’t regret it, it will be by virtue of cosmic accident, not intelligent design.
Cardinals acquire starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery from Yankees for center fielder Harrison Bader and a player to be named
Well, let’s start with the part that makes sense: The Cardinals needed more reliable starting pitching, and Montgomery is a very reliable starter. Combined with Jose Quintana, acquired Monday, the Cardinals lengthened their list of starters in typical Cardinals fashion, focusing on low-key veterans. You could argue, given the strength of their position player prospect group, they would have been better off swinging bigger for a frontline starter, but Montgomery nonetheless gives them a rotation that better suits a playoff contender.