The hits keep on coming for the Nationals, who, in a span of four years, have witnessed a mass exodus with Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and now Juan Soto, counting among other trade and free-agent casualties. While industry experts Jim Callis and Keith Law were both complimentary of the prospect haul Washington received in Tuesday’s trade, fans can’t be thrilled to see another mega-star leave the nest with Soto—a 23-year-old Ted Williams clone still scratching the surface of his Hall-of-Fame potential—now off to San Diego.
Management can vilify Soto for pooh-poohing a $440-million extension if they so choose, but the Nationals had to know they’d be laughed out of the room by Scott Boras for offering his client a lower salary than Corey Seager and Carlos Correa. For too long, the Nationals and other “small-market” (merely a synonym for cheap) teams have been guilty of skimping on payroll, developing homegrown talent only to let someone else foot the bill. It’s a frustrating cycle and one that probably won’t end anytime soon, though it’s a cruel trick to play on fans, letting them grow attached to stars like Soto, then pulling the rug out from underneath them, often when they least expect it.
“I feel terrible for them. I can empathize with how they’re feeling. The guys that we’ve had here that are wearing other uniforms. Now add Juan to that list, add [Josh Bell] to that list. I feel their pain,” said veteran Sean Doolittle in the aftermath of Tuesday’s trade. “I’m still here. I don’t know if that helps.”
The trade deadline is an emotional time, not just for fans but also for players, including Brewers All-Star Devin Williams, who still can’t fathom why teammate Josh Hader was dealt to San Diego.
“A lot of things don’t really make sense,” said Williams, frustrated that a first-place team would trade its best reliever in the middle of a pennant race. “I want to win. That’s really the biggest thing to me.”
The new collective bargaining agreement, which raised the luxury tax threshold to $230 million, was put in place to prevent such teardowns, though obviously it’s had little effect with penny-pinching owners proving they’ll do anything to save a buck, even if it means gutting a team that won the World Series as recently as three years ago.