The franchise started in 1969, and it’s just another expansion team wearing funny uniforms and losing 110 games. Five decades have passed, with few Hall of Famers but no championships. Then after years of heavy spending and trading by the front office, Juan Soto led the team all the way.
This scenario surfaced for the Washington Nationals in 2019, when they finally won the World Championship. The San Diego Padres are hoping to have a sequel of their own.
The Padres—cousins of the Montreal Exposition expansion, who eventually moved to Washington—were not particularly close to the title. Their last scheduled World Championship game was on October 25, 1998, the seventh game against the Yankees in the Bronx. They were swept up, and the game was never played. This is the day Soto was born in the Dominican Republic.
Now Soto is Padre, and he’s moved on to the next phase of his career with an almost unrivaled start. As he continues to advance into a season at the age of 23, here are some of the 10 most similar players in history to Soto up to the age of 22, according to baseball reference: Hank Aaron, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Grevey Jr., Mickey Mantell, Frank Robinson, Mike Trout.
Soto that’s good. That’s why he could confidently turn down a $440 million contract offer from the Nationals last month. That’s why he ordered an extravagant batch of players from Padres in a deal that rocked the sport on Tuesday’s trading deadline.
Washington Soto and Josh Bell—the knockout force at first base—sent to San Diego of first base captain Luke Voight and five young players: short C.J. Abrams, bowler Mackenzie Gore, defensive tackle Robert Hassell III, pitcher Garlin Susanna and backstop James Wood. All five were high-ranking amateurs who had kept their promises so far. No one has yet played a full season in the majors.
“It’s really a credit to our exploratory and development group, really over the past seven or eight years,” General Manager A.J. Preller said at a press conference in San Diego. “Being able to consistently get players that other teams covet, and hopefully you’ll be there here at Petco quite often, but also potentially puts you in a position to make that kind of deal.”
This move leaves the Nationals with virtually nothing of their championship team, essentially discouraging reminders of bad investments and false potential. Stephen Strasbourg earns $35 million but can’t escape injury. Patrick Corbin, who earns $23.3 million, is 15-38 since the world championships. Outfielder Victor Robles, who was once among the top five in the sport, is bankrupt.
The team wasn’t ready to win before Soto’s free agency after the 2024 season. By trading Soto now – with three potential post-season rounds for the winning team – the Nationals got exceptional value in return. Building around Soto might have been the better option, but that was a risky bet with the team for sale and dealer Scott Borras’ history of grabbing top dollar at free agency.
Citizens eagerly chased after Boras’ best clients. General Manager Mike Rizzo, backed by Lerner family ownership, built five playoff teams in eight seasons through 2019, largely via Boras team members such as Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Soto, Strasbourg and Jason Wirth.
But when you play at the high stakes table, you can lose the same way you won. Now the Citizens lose more than any other team.
Looks like the Padres family will have a big downfall too – eventually. They cannot maintain their level of spending, in dollars and potential capital, forever. But Briller spent years preparing for life as a competitor, and now the fantasy lives on.
Few of his peers amass high-impact prospects like Briller, and few are willing to let them down. Over the past few seasons, Briller has traded for a full rotation of starters in their prime: Mike Clevenger, Yu Darvish, Sean Manaya, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell.
In 2019, he convinced the property to make third baseman Mane Machado the first $300 million player in baseball history, then gave even more money to shortstop Fernando Tates Jr. before last season: $340 million for 14 years. Tatis was only 17 years old when the Preller stole him from the Chicago White Sox in a deal for James Shields in 2016.
The Soto and Bale deal wasn’t even Padres’ only title on Deadline: Josh Hader, the four-times closest All-Star, arrived in a deal with Milwaukee on Monday, and versatile Brandon Drury (.274 with 20 home runs) on Tuesday in a deal with Cincinnati .
The team also shipped first baseman Eric Hosmer — who was initially part of the Soto trade before the limited no-trade clause was called — to Boston for a prospect.
The other contenders acted boldly at the deadline. Houston acquired Trey Mancini and Christian Vázquez for their lineup and Will Smith for their Bulls game, while Atlanta and Philadelphia added a newbie, loyalist and outside player: Noah Syndergaard, David Robertson, Brandon Marsh for the Phillies, Jakezil Oudoris Iglesias for Film and Robbie The Braves. The Yankees, Mets, Toronto, St. Louis, Seattle, Minnesota, and Milwaukee have also added multiplayer.
But no one acted as desperately as the Padres, who had waited for this moment for so many years. They endured nine losing seasons in a row before making the playoffs in a 2020 season that was cut short by the pandemic, the only season since 1998 to score a playoff victory.
Last year started with a promise but ended with a hit: 18 games ended 0.500 on August 10, Padres was four games under the season finale. They sacked manager Jace Tengler and signed Bob Melvin – three-time Best Manager winner – away from Oakland.
Tatis hasn’t played this season after breaking his wrist in an off-season motorcycle accident, but he should soon begin his rehab quest. Melvin had already put Padres in the playoff position at 58-46 as of Monday – and still hadn’t written Bale, Soto or Tates into the lineup. That’s a lot of blows to bolster the middle league’s attack, and Padres already has a top 10 action squad.
“Offensively, especially without Tates, we were challenged,” Briller said. “It’s a credit to Bob, the staff and the players in this room that they put us in a position to decide, hey, we have a team that can play deep in October.”
Plenty of other teams can dream of a deep post-season tour — the Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, Mets and Braves all hit the Tuesday trading deadline with a winning percentage of 0.600 or better. They are the elite of the big business, and the Padres aspire to join them.
These five perks, of course, have something else the Padres lacks: the World Championship. Soto left the national team just before his 24th birthday, and there is something sad about that. But now he has a chance to elevate a second team to his first-ever show, and that quest will be captivating.