With Juan Soto and Josh Hader, Padres go all out for World Series

This team started in 1969 as just another expansion team in comical uniforms, losing 110 games. Five years on, there are several Hall of Famers, but no champions. Then, after years of aggressive spending and deals by management, Juan Soto led the team along the way.

In 2019, the Washington Nationals finally won the World Series. The San Diego Padres hope to have their own sequel.

The Padres — the expansive cousin of the Montreal Expos that eventually moved to Washington — never came particularly close to a championship. Their last scheduled World Series was on October 25, 1998, against the Yankees in Game 7 in the Bronx. They were swept and the game was never played. That was the day Soto was born in the Dominican Republic.

Now Soto is a priest entering the next phase of his career with an almost unparalleled start.Based on his 23-year-old season still in progress, here are some of the 10 players most similar to Soto’s 22-year-old in history baseball reference: Hank Aaron, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr., Mitch Mantel, Frank Robinson, Mike Trout.

Soto is so good. That’s why he can confidently reject a $440 million contract offer from the Nationals last month. That’s why he commanded a slew of players from the Padres in Tuesday’s trade-deadline trade that rattled the sport.

Washington sent Soto and Josh Bell (the switch-hitting power of first base) to San Diego for first baseman Luke Voit and five young players: shortstop CJ Abrams, pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III, pitcher Jarlin Susana and outfielder Luke Voit. Fielder James Wood. All five are highly regarded amateurs who have so far delivered on their promises. No one has played a full season in a major.

The move leaves the Nationals with almost nothing from their championship team and is just a gloomy reminder of misinvestment and false potential. Stephen Strasburg made $35 million but couldn’t escape injury. Patrick Corbin, earning $23.3 million a year, has a 15-38 record since the World Series. Outfielder Victor Robles, once a top-five player in the sport, is now bankrupt.

After the 2024 season, the team wasn’t ready to win until Soto became a free agent. By trading Soto now — giving the acquiring team three potential playoff runs — the Nationals have reaped an extraordinary return. Building a team around Soto might be a better option, but it’s a risky bet with teams up for sale and agent Scott Bolas’ history of earning high prices in free agency.

The Nationals are eagerly chasing Boras’ best client. General manager Mike Rizzo, with the support of the Lerner family, built five playoff teams in eight seasons through 2019, primarily through Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Sher Boras team members such as Ze, Soto, Strasbourg and Jason Voss.

However, when you play at the high stakes tables, you can lose in the same way you win. Now the Nationals have more losses than any other team.

The Padres also appear to be headed for a slump — eventually. They can’t sustain their spending levels forever, either in dollars or potential capital. But their general manager, AJ Preller, spent years preparing for life as a contender, and now he’s living his dream.

Few of his peers can gather high-impact leads like Preller, and few are willing to part with them. Over the past few seasons, Presser has traded for full starters: Mike Clevinger, Yudavish, Sean Manaya, Joe Musgrove and Blakesnell.

In 2019, he persuaded his owners to make third baseman Manny Machado the first $300 million player in baseball history, then to shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. before last season. More Money: $340 million over 14 years. Tatis was just 17 years old when Preller snatched him from the Chicago White Sox in 2016 for James Shields.

The Soto-Bell trade wasn’t even the only headliner for the Padres at the deadline: Four-time All-Star Josh Hader struck a deal with Milwaukee on Monday, while the versatile Brandon Drury (.274 and 20 Ben Baseball) joined the trade with Cincinnati on Tuesday.

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

For the priests, all of this is a very long time—a very, very long time. They went through nine consecutive losing seasons before reaching the playoffs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the only one since 1998 to win the postseason.

Last year started off promising but ended with a bang: 18 games over .500 on Aug. 10, the Padres finished the season four behind. They fired manager Jess Tinler and signed three-time Manager of the Year Bob Melvin from Oakland.

Tatis, who broke his wrist in an offseason motorcycle accident, has not raced this season, but he should begin a rehab mission soon. As of Monday, Melvin has put the Padres 58-46 in the playoffs — and he hasn’t added Bell, Soto or Tatis to the lineup. That’s a bunch of whacks for an offense that improves league averages, and the Padres already have a top-10 pitching staff.

Plenty of other teams can dream about playoff performances — the Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, Mets and Warriors all hit Tuesday’s trade deadline with a .600 win rate or better. They are professional elites, and the priests are eager to join them.

Of course, these five teams have something else the Padres lack: World Series titles. It’s a little sad that Soto left the Nationals before his 24th birthday. But now he has the chance to lead a second team in the first-ever parade, and the pursuit will be fascinating.

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