There are many unfortunate layers in the Juan Soto deal for DC sports fans – one that they sadly know all too well after losing the likes of Chris Webber, Champ Bailey and Bryce Harper over the years.
Hughes: DC Sports Fans Deserve Better Than The Soto Trade Originally On NBC Sports Washington
You don’t often see trades like the one between the Nationals and Padres on Tuesdays, in part because you don’t see players like Juan Soto drop by very often. All those statistics about the historic start of his career remain, they will now take on a very different tone from the ones you read in Washington.
You also rarely see trades like this as it is extremely uncommon for teams to trade stars of his size at his age. Soto is only 23 years old, but he has already won a World Series ring, been a playoff hero, won a batting title, made two Silver Sluggers, made two All-Star teams and won a home run derby.
Put aside the comparisons to Ted Williams, which some of baseball’s most respected historians have embraced, and say he’s the next Albert Pujols. That would mean that a Hall-of-Fame player stands out from the other greats of his time. After age 23, Pujols won three MVP awards and two World Series rings.
Another player in that echelon would be Miguel Cabrera. After his 23-year season, Cabrera won two MVPs, four batting titles and a triple crown. Seemingly like Soto, you could tell early on that Cabrera was destined to become one of the game’s top hitters.
Cabrera is perhaps the closest parallel to Soto for another reason. That’s because he was also traded by a team that tried to cut his salary not long after winning a World Series. After winning the title in 2003 with a 20-year-old Cabrera, the then-Florida Marlins collapsed to last place before exchanging him for the Tigers in 2007. While Cabrera, just 24 when he left, continued a storied career, the Marlins didn’t get anything close enough in return to build a contender.
These are the players who got the Marlins back: Burke Badenhop, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Frankie De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Mike Rabelo. The only player of those six to make an All-Star team was Miller, but as a reliever and years later as a pitcher for other teams. He was traded to the Marlins after failing to start as starter.
The Marlins also included Dontrelle Willis, who didn’t mean much to Detroit, but further aligned this transaction with the Soto trade, as Washington also took on first baseman Josh Bell. They are two good players, Soto and Bell, waiting for a big hope.
There are many unfortunate layers to this deal for DC sports fans. Consider the fact that Soto is only in his fifth MLB season. He could have another decade of peak years ahead of him and maybe even more. By trading him now, the Nationals have effectively ensured that he will be more associated with playing elsewhere. For example, Cabrera, who many baseball fans may have forgotten to play for the Marlins, played 720 games for Florida before being split. Soto played just 565 for the Nats.
DC fans, unfortunately, know all too well how this can go. You could reach further back with the Wizards trading Chris Webber or the now-Commanders trading Champ Bailey. Or you can stay with the baseball team.
Nationals fans saw Bryce Harper, Soto’s former teammate, win the NL MVP award last season, despite being the sport’s 18th highest paid player. Harper left in free agency and the Nats got nothing in return. Regardless of how you feel about Harper’s departure, given that some fans weren’t sad to see him leave, that decision doesn’t look great in retrospect.
At least they traded Trea Turner and got something back, though he’s only won a batting title since then and started an All-Star game. He performs like a star for one of the best teams in the league.
Turner, of course, was traded to the Dodgers with Max Scherzer for a package of prospects. While the Nationals’ side of that trade can’t be properly evaluated until a larger sample size is provided, it doesn’t seem like they got comparable talent in return at this point. That may have contributed to why Tuesday’s trading had to take place.
The Nationals front office, which has done a remarkable job of building a winner with an abundance of star players, has reached a point where the closet is empty, or at least empty. Despite having Soto, one of the best players in the world, they couldn’t see a way to a twist fast enough to fit into Soto’s timeline, even though he’s only 23.
There is where some would argue that the potential upsides of the Soto trade lie. By trading one great player for five prospects with a significant advantage, the Nationals can get closer to the fight as they needed more talent across the board. As long as some of those players reach their potential — unlike what the Marlins got for Cabrera — the Nationals could be better off.
Maybe that will be the case, but the odds aren’t in their favor of finding a single player as good as Soto in that deal either. In fact, the start to his career was so special, there is no guarantee that Nationals fans will see a player like him play for the team again.
In a perfect world, Soto would have continued to establish his legacy as a great player in DC. He would have become one of the city’s greatest players of all time with Alex Ovechkin, Darrell Green and Wes Unseld. Very rarely does an athlete come along with the potential to join those ranks, but Soto had a real chance.
But somehow the team that signed Scherzer to a historic $210 million free agency contract seven years ago is trading a superstar player away because they don’t think they can afford him. two years before his current contract expires. They went from an annual power player in free agency to a team that develops stars for others. In full circle they are the Expos again.
Soto now plays elsewhere, as do Turner, Harper, Scherzer and Anthony Rendon. A franchise that made the playoffs five times in eight years and won the World Series in 2019 has now officially stripped everything down to the studs to start from scratch.
Granted, it should be mentioned that the Nationals are reportedly for sale and could be under new ownership in a few months. There are extenuating circumstances, yet it’s a stunning twist. It will also be difficult for fans to get to grips with. In a top 10 media market, for a franchise that set the bar impressively high from 2012 to 2019, all the stars are gone.
However, the Nationals have made their decision. Out the door is one of the best players in his sport and one of the best athletes DC fans have had the pleasure of using in a long time. Now the Nats will pin their hopes on a collection of young players who can lead them into a new and exciting era.
But even if that happens, if we say the Nationals will be good again in a few years, Soto may still be in his mid-20s by then, potentially a perennial MVP contender. At some point they wish they had a bat just like his in the middle of the order.
The shuffle, the swing; Soto’s time here was fun while it lasted. Now another fan base gets to call him theirs.