WASHINGTON – In his latest blow as a Washington player, Juan Soto was able to chip away at his former teammate and fellow 2019 champion, Max Scherzer, who is now promoting for potential New York Mets. By the time the team played again, Soto had been replaced by the San Diego Padres. He also walked three times, stole a base and threw a runner on the plate in a Monday night game that also featured fans giving him applause after his last bat (one of the walking rounds, appropriately) before the trade deadline.
The Nats quietly descended in the ninth inning of their 69th loss, and Soto was watching from dugout. When that was done, he signed a baseball game and handed it to a young fan. Last September, it caught Soto’s attention with a sign that reads “Juan My Pacemaker Beats 4U” According to Soto, he continued to go to games regularly.
“I always talk to her,” he said.
Later, standing in front of what was once Ryan Zimmerman’s locker, a box of Cocoa Puffs on the floor nearby, he said, “I feel like this has been the worst season I’ve ever had.”
The crazy thing is that he’s not completely wrong. The OPS is 58% better than the league average — but that’s down from last year when it was 77% better than the league average, or 2020 when it was more than double the average hitter in the Major League. Before that, he won the world championship. Prior to that, he went from A-ball to a major league star in one season.
However, adversity, such as hitting 247 while leading a baseball game in a walk or playing for a team that loses twice as many as it wins, can force growth, making a player famous for his youth wise beyond his years.
“I’ve learned more about myself,” Soto said of how this season has changed him. “I’ve been learning about the team, the work, and all that kind of stuff.”
Monday night was quiet. His fellow veteran Nelson Cruz sat with him at the club and talked about all the different scenarios. Cruz played for seven different teams during his 18-year career. Tell Soto that the first trade is the hardest. When it happened to him, as a minor companion, he cried for two days.
But with his future still uncertain, Soto cracked jokes. Chalkked’s impressive performance went so far as to prove the baseball cliché: “It shows you that I control what I can.” He expected that he would sleep well.
He admitted, though, that relief would not come on Tuesday. “Tomorrow? No. It will be Wednesday, probably.”
Look, wise one. Because Tuesday’s lesson was probably the hardest of all.
Soto has been with the Nationals since they signed him out from the Dominican Republic as a teenager in 2015. Recently, he bought a house in the metropolitan area. Even if he had always planned to be away at free agency, he could have stayed with the team for over two more years. However, he then declined a polite but possibly routine extension from Nationals for the sum of $440 million, for 15 years.
On deadline day, players and in-game people will tell you that baseball is a business. And then they will tell you over and over again. This isn’t a breakup, it’s a business transaction. This is why GMs, when they talk about trading the face of their franchise, will call it “the player” and “the widget.”
But keep in mind that some feelings are inevitable.
Consider Dave Martinez, for whom Soto played his entire Big League career, describing their relationship: “I talked to his dad a lot, and said, ‘I know by birth he’s your son, but on the field,’ he stopped talking, clicked his chest and blinked. His eyes slightly, “He’s my son.”
That was then.
With hours past the deadline, news broke that Juan Soto and Josh Bell, a first baseman with an undervalued .301 average substitution stroke and an impressive spool of shots at the start, traded for Padres. In return, the natives got a left-handed jug of longtime novice Mackenzie Gore. fast rookie shortstop CJ Abrams; off field horizons Robert Hassell III, 6-foot-7 James Wood; Yarlin Susanna, who is farthest from the major leagues, thinks he has an upside. and veteran Luke Voight, after Eric Hosmer objected to his inclusion in the deal.
“We set the standards very high” – “I was the guy who signed it up too” – Rizzo said during a press conference that was at times defensive – and was emotional as he looked close to tears. And then one team overtook him. And that’s the deal we made.”
Soto’s impending departure has dominated the baseball news cycle for weeks, and has always been linked to the ambitious Padres led by the aggressive A.J. Preller, among other suitors. However, “It’s still a bit shocking and confusing,” said Sean Doolittle, the injured veteran loyalist.
“It sounds surreal. Like saying it out loud, I think.”
The club’s silent televisions showed footage of Soto punctuated by an analysis of how the Padres got their man. The remaining citizens, those who had been here for at least a short time, meekly tried to put words into loss. Soto and Bale had all come and gone, heading to San Diego, by the time the media was allowed into the club. The farewell was behind closed doors.
“We talked for a while and he had mixed feelings,” Martinez said. “So it’s tough.”
Leaving behind, among other things, an even team, a championship banner that didn’t get a victory lap, two young players pressed play with big shoes to fill, and cupboards in disarray, to be packed and shipped to the players in their new homes.
In front of Soto’s: a chest the size of a large kitchen appliance filled with still-muddy jersey shirts and red cleats he doesn’t need where he goes now. The Cocoa Puffs chest is still where he left it. Notable image then of a stick figure in a red hat mounted on the front of the wooden booth. Tucked inside, what appeared to be a custom screen-printed T-shirt with a picture of a young fan holding a banner about Soto and her heart, whom he said he would talk to whenever she was at the match.
The fiery sale of citizens led to the Soto trade
Rizzo said there is no ordinance to trade or not to trade Soto. Ownership – the outgoing Lerner family whose upcoming team sale must have been factored in, although it’s hard to say exactly how – entrusted him with evaluating the market and making the best decision about the franchise. He felt that meant selling high, as it were, and maximizing the return by giving the opposing team three potential Soto seasons under team control. Of course another way to look at it is over two years of exclusive rights to negotiate a future Hall of Famer probably in its prime.
Rizzo didn’t quite take for granted that the trade was based on the understanding that they wouldn’t be able to extend Soto. But when asked about it, he said, “We felt we weren’t going to be able to extend it.”
As an explanation, this presents many argumentative questions – such as: Why not? – As he answers. But it acts as an explanation. Although they have made several Soto performances since then, the Nationals put that deal into action last season, if not sooner, with a fire sale on a deadline that left him stuck in a team that doesn’t hope to compete in the next two years. For all he is, Soto alone can’t win ball games. This season has shown a lot.
Evaluators will say their essay about yield, and then time will tell better than any drop model ever could. But it is fair to ask now, what do these moves mean in the simplest sense: Are citizens more willing to win today than they were yesterday?
“I think we’ve taken several steps forward,” Rizzo said.
On the one hand, this is a filler. If you think they’ll be good again, each passing day brings them closer. But also, the ripping is now complete. They will build something new, something completely separate from the 2019 team that has since sparred around baseball. This is the cycle in sport – sustainability is possible, consistency is not. What appears to be continued dominance in certain markets is, upon closer examination, perpetual evolution. This may be the beginning of what will eventually become a long and illustrious success in the capital but wouldn’t it have been nice for Juan Soto to be here for it?