Well, the Washington Nationals did it. They traded franchise superstar Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres for huge a prospect haul, including two MLB-ready players.
The Nationals were never going to be praised for trading away Soto, a 23-year-old generational talent, but it may have been inevitable given the circumstances.
Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier discussed the trade and where the Nationals go from here on an emergency Juan Soto trade episode of Audacy’s Bustin’ Loose Baseball podcast.
“I just think that it was a reality, Danny, that Juan Soto was never going to re-sign,” Paulsen said (4:00 in player above). “I came to that realization a few weeks ago. And if that’s the case – and maybe I’m wrong. If I’m wrong about that then I’m wrong about the rest of my theory here. But if I’m right and he was not going to re-sign, then the best time to trade Juan Soto was right now.
“I keep reciting this because I love it from FanGraphs, but they said ‘the best time to trade Juan Soto is never. And the second-best time is right now.’ And I really believe that.”
Rouhier noted that while trading away a superstar usually doesn’t work out, paying a megacontract to one player doesn’t necessarily work out either. The Angels are seeing the pitfalls of that with Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and former Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Given Soto’s contract demands and the looming change in ownership, the outfielder re-signing with the team seemed unlikely. Soto and agent Scott Boras were likely going to ask for a contract that would put the Nationals in a bind.
“There’s a no-win situation here. If you operate from – which you and I have for a while now, I think maybe I was on this for a long time – there was no offer that this organization could realistically put in front of Juan Soto that they were willing to sign before free agency,” Rouhier said. “I think he’s going to be a free agent.”
If the Nationals were a good team and in contention, as they were for the better part of the 2010s, then this is a different scenario. But they aren’t in contention and haven’t drafted well either.
“The bottom has fallen out,” Rouhier continued. “There are no reinforcements coming up from the minor leagues. There are no more Juan Sotos. There’s no more guy that’s next. There’s no more this dude will help carry the load, etc. This is something that makes a lot of practical sense
“There’s no way to get 100 cents on the dollar for a future Hall of Famer in his prime that’s in rarified air. There’s no way to win, necessarily, if you paid him everything that he asked for and more in two and a half years.”
This trade was definitely emotional for the Nationals fanbase. Soto was the team’s homegrown superstar and World Series hero. Now he’s in San Diego.
“This is painful because they lost all the other guys before him. This isn’t fun. But this is team building,” Rouhier said. “This is one of those band-aids you have to rip right off, in my opinion.”
The band-aid has been ripped off and the Nationals are rebuilding. At least they got a few good foundational pieces to build around.
“I think they’re in better shape organizationally today than they were 48 hours ago,” Paulsen said. “I believe that they have a chance to be good in 2024 now in a way that they maybe didn’t before this deal. I really like the return they got. They flooded their system.”
Paulsen noted that the Nationals’ prospect system was ranked 25th by FanGraphs before the trade and they are now up to the eighth-best system in the league. If you include MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams, who both graduated recently, they would be the fifth-best.
“It is a complete gamechanger. Mike Rizzo said ‘I would consider making the trade if I can change the game. If I can help us to win now and beyond.’ Well, this is a franchise-altering – kind of industry-altering, maybe – package. We’ve never seen anything like this.”