How Padres pulled off Juan Soto blockbuster

The Padres are where it’s at today, thanks to their “gunslinger” general manager, AJ Preller, and their win-at-any costs managing partner, Peter Seidler. They gave up five great prospects to get 23-year-old prodigy Juan Soto plus good-hitting first baseman Josh Bell from Washington. While everyone said it was a haul, there are managers and coaches all over baseball lamenting their comparatively cautious GMs.

The atmosphere was electric Wednesday at a sellout game in San Diego, which was already fourth in attendance (second based on capacity), and now is the center of the baseball universe for perhaps the first time. The rival Dodgers, who have accumulated a massive number of great prospects and young players despite annually picking near the bottom of the draft, were said by someone familiar with the offers to have come “fairly close” to the Padres’ “aggressive” package . Though the Dodgers surely didn’t want to include emerging ace Tony Gonsolin or others contributing to their big league team in big packages, they still had enough prospects — but only if they were willing to outbid Preller, a guy hellbent on completing the deal.

The ever-conservative Cardinals, with stellar prospects as well, probably finished third, and did the logical thing by acquiring two needed solid starting pitchers (Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery). The public powwow between Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Cardinals baseball president John Mozeliak in Rizzo’s box on the eve of the deal, in retrospect, looks like a purposeful showing for the West Coast teams.

No surprise, the Padres were also the likeliest trading partner if the Angels had surprised everyone by dealing two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, as they suggested a slightly different but comparable prospect package for him. Folks figured Preller would land Soto ultimately, but the jealousy around the game became noticeable as he also got Bell in the deal. He later added late-blooming Brandon Drury for two guys, using their No. 29 prospect as the key piece. Drury became the first Padre to hit a grand slam in his first at-bat in San Diego’s 9-1 win over Colorado in Soto’s debut.

The Padres had the Soto-Bell blockbuster all but locked up late Monday night. Ultimately, the Padres surrendered James Wood (the Willie McCovey comp they badly wanted to keep), plus Robert Hassell III (who the Nats see as a future star), MacKenzie Gore (“an ace,” said a rival), top shortstop prospect CJ Abrams and 18-year-old prodigy Jarlin Susana (who throws 100 mph with control). That only shows the true value of a once-in-a-generation talent such as Soto, who only has two-plus years to go and already makes eight times more than those five players combined (likely 15 times more times more next year).

Juan Soto #22 of the San Diego Padres hits a single
Extricating Juan Soto from the Nationals took plenty of work from Padres GM AJ Preller.
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Juan Soto #22 of the San Diego Padres and GM AJ Preller answer questions
Preller was hellbent on acquiring Soto.
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By deadline morning, the Padres only needed to find a spot to send Eric Hosmer in case he vetoed his portion of the trade to Washington, which he did, predictably so. By including about 90 percent of the $40 million to go on Hosmer’s deal (and getting high-ceiling pitching prospect Jay Groome back), the Padres quickly found an alternative — the Red Sox — not on Hosmer’s limited no-trade list and more to his liking. His new wife Kacie McDonnell was formerly a broadcaster in Boston, though with first baseman Triston Casas as Boston’s best prospect, it’s uncertain how long Hosmer is for the Hub.

The Padres remade a mediocre lineup, and once Fernando Tatis Jr. returns (perhaps soon), their batting order may be the equal of that of the star-packed Dodgers. “The Padres are better than the Mets now. I’m not sure about the Dodgers, but they are the second-best team in the National League,” one rival executive said.

With Seidler’s OK, Preller has turned the sleepy Padres into a juggernaut. They had chances to stay below the $230 million luxury-tax threshold, but ultimately went a few million over with their commitment. Preller had many balls in the air on the deadline day, including a day game and the uncertainty about the lineup, but he gave himself options under the belief Hosmer would likely reject the Nats. While Luke Voit was saying to be upset to go to a rebuilder, word is he was professional about leaving the most exciting team in the game.

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