Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Juan (and Josh) are gone

23 comments

hate to see him go, but you can’t argue with teh return. Photo via NYpost

Well, it had to happen. This is the required “hot take” post on the trade return the Nats got in exchange for sending two months of Josh Bell plus 2 full years of Juan Soto to the San Diego Padres.

Per mlbtraderumors, which is doing a good job following everyone’s tweeting and reporting:

  • Padres get Bell, Soto
  • Nats get the following package (ranks per MLBpipeline)
  1. C.J. Abrams SS: Recently graduated from prospect status, but was San Diego’s #1 overall prospect heading into this season, and routinely considered a top 3-5 prospect in all of the majors. 1st Round pick in 2019 (6th overall), he’s in the majors at age 21 and somewhat struggling right now (.232/.285/.320). But, the potential is clearly there.
  2. McKenzie Gore LHP (Starter): Graduated from prospect status in 2021. Before graduating was San Diego’s #1 prospect and was rated as high as the #2 prospect in the entire sport. 1st rounder (3rd overall) in 2017, he’s 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA in his first year starting for San Diego.
  3. Robert Hassell, OF (CF): San Diego’s new #1 prospect with Abrams graduation, #21 overall. A 2020 first rounder (8th overall), he’s in High-A and slashing .299/.379/.467. This is a significant prospect, a true CF with power.
  4. James Wood, OF (corner): San Diego’s #3 prospect, #88 overall. 2021 2nd rounder, hails from Olney/Rockville before moving to IMG to play his senior year. He destroyed complex ball upon drafting last year and is similarly destroying Low-A ball this year (though, to be fair, its the California league, with a lot of parks at altitude). He’s got an OPS north of 1.000 this year as a 19yr old in low-A, with 10 homers in 50 games. wow.
  5. Jarlin Susana, a RHP starter: San Diego’s #14 prospect. A 2022 IFA, listed by MLB as the top ranked pitcher in the class. Signed for $1.7M. He’s 18, and instead of going to DSL he’s in the Arizona complex league and is holding his own: 8 starts, 2.45 ERA.
  6. Luke Voit, a Hosmer-replacement 1B/DH type who slots into Bell’s old position and off-sets some salary (he makes $5.4M this year). Interestingly, despite being 31 now, he’s still got two arb years left. So its not a throw-away player.

Conclusion?

I think this is a *fantastic* haul. As I put in the comments before, they got two “as good as they get prospects” in Gore, Abrams, two top 100 prospects in Hassel, Wood, and a top IFA.

Yes, there’s risk in prospects. You can go through each of these guys and hem and haw. Abrams is struggling in the majors, Gore might need TJ, Wood is a project, Hassell might flame out, Susana is years away. Yes, that’s the floor-centric viewpoint of all of these prospects.

I look more at what they were: three 1st rounders, a second rounder and their top IFA pick this year. That’s called “gutting the system.” I laugh at the hot takers who think this isn’t a big haul. This is a huge portion of San Diego’s player development system for the last 5 years. And now its ours.

Welcome to the new world. Imagine a rotation with Gore, Grey, Cavalli, Henry, and (hey we’re dreaming right) a healthy Strasburg? Imagine an infield that goes House, Abrams, Garcia, and a veteran basher 1B/DH type. Imagine an outfield of Hassell and Woods in the corners and Vaquero in Center. Or Green thrown in there.


post publishing observation … the Nats may have to do some 40-man shuffling. Bell/Soto out so 38/40 on the 40-man, but coming back are Gore and Abrams (on the 40-man) AND Voit. The rest are non 40-man players … so they’ll have to make a move.

Written by Todd Boss

August 2nd, 2022 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Nats in General

23 Responses to 'Juan (and Josh) are gone'

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  1. Let’s start with an anti-hot take: we won’t REALLY know how successful this trade was until about 2025-26. If it worked, a new era of contending will open, built around a young, exciting, controlled core, augmented by a few key free agent signings. That’s the window that opened in 2011-12 but took until 2019 to culminate in a championship. That all already seems so long ago . . .

    As I noted in the last comments, another part of judging what becomes of this may involve further trades from the suddenly deep, high-ceiling OF group: Hassell, Wood, Green, Vaquero, de la Rosa, Lile, White, Quintana. I think the oldest ones in that group are 21.

    Also, doing apples to apples of what was actually available, this was probably the best that Rizzo could get. I know there has been some quibbling that Merrill wasn’t included, but if was him or Wood, I’d take Wood. Also part of the initial shock — including mine — was that Bell was also included but this didn’t seem to be any better haul that had been projected just for Soto. Sigh. Anyway, if the Cards weren’t going to part with Walker, then this was far and away the best pot of prospects who could have been gotten. The Dodgers just didn’t have this level of prospect quality.

    My take is that the Cards made a big mistake here. They now may not even make the playoffs. The Padres probably won’t catch the Dodgers (12 games back) but will be the most feared lineup in the playoffs. And I’ll probably be rooting for them, too.

    Now, for the immediate issue: 60% of the talent acquired is 2-3 years away from the majors. I discussed the gap in the last comments. The current young core is going to be arb-eligible before Hassell, Wood, Susana, House (who has missed most of this season), and Green show up on South Capitol. Maybe it’s time for Rizzo to figure out how to start doing some Braves-type early extensions for the early round of young core.

    KW

    2 Aug 22 at 6:13 pm

  2. And so much for the “strategy” having Nelson Cruz and Cesar Hernandez to flip at the trade deadline. The $16M for Cruz clearly is a fail by Rizzo. Money would have been much better spent on starting pitching, as I said a the time.

    KW

    2 Aug 22 at 6:31 pm

  3. I have a draft post where I was going to review all the returns for all these players we were going to trade … and we traded none of them. Cruz not getting moved is a shock. It could be they lost all their oxygen dealing with soto/bell, and it could be that we just couldn’t get any thing for these guys.

    Todd Boss

    2 Aug 22 at 9:57 pm

  4. Todd – thank you for this take. It’s properly optimistic, and properly recognizes that the haul from SD was as good as the Nationals would get at this stage and *might* not be matched by anyone this winter. Rizzo bet his career on this trade, and while I am sad to see Soto and Bell go, these were exactly the prospects I wanted to see coming back. And no, the Cardinals were not going to come near this package. Preller clearly was not going to be outdone. And for the Nats to get Voit as a throw-in is wonderful. All in all, a sad day, but in my mind, it was a day forced by Soto. The Nationals took a souring lemonade and made a fresh lemonade that will be fun to follow for the coming years.

    forensicane

    2 Aug 22 at 11:42 pm

  5. Wow! Dr. Fore returns from witness protection.

    Let’s face it, Juan Soto had no interest in being here, he telegraphed that when he switched agents to Scott Boras. When he comes back in 9 days I’m sure all the pollyannas will cheer him.

    If Gore has TJ surgery the haul looks less.

    Mark L

    3 Aug 22 at 8:10 am

  6. Good point Todd about the lack of other trades this year. It could just be that Rizzo was too busy, but it seemed leaguewide that teams were only making “impact” trades (and hard to argue that any of the Nats other expiring contracts were impactful this year).
    My question is this: In years back there was an alternative way to move players after the deadline (DFA with a trade?). Is that still possible (and maybe viable for higher priced vets like Cruz, Hernandez), or did that get eliminated at some point?

    DaveB

    3 Aug 22 at 8:34 am

  7. DaveB: I believe the post-trade deadline moves are now a thing of the past. Before there was a deadline, but you could then put all your players on waivers to see who passed through, and if they passed through then they could still be moved at any point up to the end of the season. I don’t think the players liked this situation for two main reasons: 1. it led to more uncertainty throughout all of Aug/Sept. 2. every year we’d see these clueless, breathless reports that would say, “Nats place Bryce Harper on Waivers!” and then try to create conflict and tension in a situation that was just normally a formality.

    Todd Boss

    3 Aug 22 at 9:07 am

  8. I was very worried the Lerners would force Rizzo to package Corbin with Soto to save money, thereby getting a lesser return for Soto. Regardless of what you think of the prospects in this deal, the Lerners deserve some praise for not doing that and maximizing the prospect haul. So: good for them.

    At the same time, this didn’t have to happen at all. If the Lerners aren’t selling the franchise, then there’s no urgency to resolve the situation with Soto. Yes, the Lerners get to do what they want with their property – and that includes selling the team. But they don’t *have* to do that, and they certainly don’t have to do it now. In 100 years, there’s a reasonable chance Juan Soto ends up being the best player ever to wear a Nats’ uniform. I’m glad the team got a big haul for trading him (compared to watching him walk for nothing or close to nothing), but it didn’t have to be this way. And we need to remember forever that the reason it *was* this way is because the Lerners decided they want to sell the team.

    Derek

    3 Aug 22 at 9:46 am

  9. I was afraid that was the case. I’m kinda sad that Nelson Cruz has to play out the line on this squad, for presumably his last year. Was really hoping that Rizzo could find a way to get him on to a contender (or perhaps at least a team where he had more history) for a final run. Oh well, he’s obviously had a great career and seems like a great guy.

    DaveB

    3 Aug 22 at 10:47 am

  10. Here’s my thoughts on whether the team “had” to trade Soto. No they didn’t … but the way they packaged him, leveraging a team desperate to make the playoffs, desperate to build a winner right now, means they got more than they would have gotten this off-season, where there’s less urgency.

    Lets face it. The nats are going to be really, really bad next year. Why would we waste a year of Soto playing for another 100game loser? It is what it is: our two big expensive arms have failed, we have a gap of draft picks coming up thanks to poor 1st round picks in the mid-to-late 2010s, and those prospects we thought were good have not been (Kieboom, Robles, Garcia, Fedde). That’s three things that all went bad simultaneously.

    If Strasburg was still throwing 3.00 ERA starts and making all star teams, and if Corbin was still an effective #2 starter … this team wouldn’t be 36-69, we’d probably be closer to where Philly is, above .500, in WC position, and we would have spent money this off-season on real bats instead of crap like Hernandez/Franco/Escobar/Adrianza.

    Todd Boss

    3 Aug 22 at 11:27 am

  11. Cruz could ask to be released in hope that another team would sign him, but no, there are no more waiver claims. Not that any team would claim the remaining one-third of Cruz’s contract anyway, which I’m sure was a sticking point in trying to trade him. Yes, I had similar thoughts last night about how I’m sure he didn’t think he would have to wallow to the finish line with the worst team in baseball. At the same time, he hasn’t really gotten it done this year. If he had, he’d have had enough value to be traded.

    KW

    3 Aug 22 at 11:32 am

  12. Sing it , Steely Dan ! Welcome to the New Frontier !
    Yes we are familiar with PCL effects on players stats from the
    Fresno experiment .
    This may sound amateur but pitching cultivation is one thing but
    Cultivating a quality Lefty starter is another notch up in player development and good planetary alignments .
    Nice to see the blending of the draft class 2021 with the Soto / Bell
    Package .
    Hassell takes the microscope off Big Tuna and onto The pride of Franklin TN where my tenth grade math teacher retired .
    And we are not even including perhaps the most important draft next summer for the org . Pitching heavy should be the focus especially
    Close to ML ready or near that window .
    Meanwhile the club should get lucky with some recycled players to help mentor the youth movement .
    Could Nats get lucky with Ponce De Leon ?
    Time will tell as Asia sang ( John Wetton ).

    Alou2alu

    3 Aug 22 at 11:46 am

  13. Anyone who criticizes the Soto deal should ask themselves this question. Soto likely is not resigning here. He turned down the biggest contract (even if it undervalued him) in the history of the game. So which would you rather have?
    – Two more years of Soto playing for a last place team, then leaving for a compensation pick?
    – Three former #1 draft picks, a #2 draft pick, an IFA who was ranked #1 in the Jan2022 class, and a 1B under team control for 3 more years?

    If you really, truly said “Oh i want Soto for two more years” then I just have to ask … do you even go to games? If its Soto and 8 losers, are you really buying season tickets?

    By way of comparison (and these aren’t exactly the same situations … but bear with me), we did NOT trade Harper or Rendon, both of whom left for massive contracts. Here’s what we got for them:
    – Harper: a 4th round compensation pick (which we lost when we signed Corbin)
    – Rendon: a 2nd round compensation pick (which turned into Samuel Infante)

    We had a deal with Houston to move Harper. Per Ken Rosenthal, it was going to be RHP starter JB Bukauskas, C Garrett Stubs, and a low-level starting pitcher. So, not a ton of return, but certainly more than a 4th rounder. Bukauskas is 25, in AAA, and looks like a closer. Stubbs is a backup C with Philly, and who knows what could have come from the 3rd arm. Point is, something is better than nothing.

    https://theathletic.com/646072/2018/11/10/rosenthal-astros-had-trade-in-place-for-bryce-harper-in-july-but-nats-ownership-said-no/

    And… that’s what we got for Soto. Something now, instead of nothing later.

    Todd Boss

    3 Aug 22 at 12:29 pm

  14. Everyone has a lot of emotions right now, as this is both a hard end and a new beginning. Boswell writes from retirement that is a cyclical part of nearly every baseball franchise, while Feinstein eviscerates the Lerners and Boras. We knew we were dancing with the devil with Boras, all the way back to the Stras and Harper signings and the Werth contract. At the same time, the glory years probably wouldn’t have happened without willingness to dance with that devil.

    The Nats made the playoffs five times in eight seasons, won one championship, and probably wasted reasonably good chances in at least a couple of other seasons after four losses in closely contested NLDS series. Even though it was the only one that didn’t go five games, Boz always pointed to 2014 as a major missed opportunity, with a relatively mediocre Giants squad winning a third title against pretty weak competition. The poor choice of Matt Williams as manager probably wasted both 2014 and 2015, which was Harper’s best season.

    That’s part of what we feel right now — we should have had two or three parades during that period, instead of just one. But one is better than none, I guess.

    Why have things flamed out? There’s babble about how Rizzo mortgaged the future by trading young talent to keep the window open. That’s not really accurate. Of all the guys traded, Giolito is the only one who has really thrived (and it took him a number of years to get there). The real problem is extremely poor drafting and development. I had that thought while looking at the prospects in other organizations being talked about as potential Soto trade chips. How in the heck do these other teams, including ones always drafting late like the Dodgers and Cards, have significantly more talent than the Nats do? How do the Padres have all these guys drafted/signed internationally over the last three years that are so much better than our guys?

    This is a bigger fundamental problem than Boras. You only keep winning by developing cheap, controlled talent, and then extending those guys while they’re still relatively cheap. There’s risk to that, of course. The one guy the Nats did that with was Zim, who started falling apart right about the time his extension kicked in. But they’ve also had significant issues with their prospects. Both Robles and Kieboom moved through the system in good order, and Robles in particular was a consensus top-10 player. But both have been duds as major-leaguers. Fedde is a dud, and most of the pitchers they have drafted with 1st-round picks have been worse than duds. (And don’t get Todd started on the embarrassingly back 2d-rounders.)

    So . . . we’re left unable to build with our own talent. We’re building with two guys from the Dodgers and five from the Padres. Garcia appears to have “made it” offensively, but his poor fundamentals at SS after five years in the system are an embarrassment to the organization. We’re told that Cavalli is nearly ready, although he was shaky last night. And they’ve really been nursing Henry this year, despite promoting him.

    I’ll try to embrace the suck, but it’s going to be hard. I watched the 2019 World Series video recently. That was a damn good team. But it completely doesn’t exist anymore.

    KW

    3 Aug 22 at 12:31 pm

  15. To be clear, I completely understand why they had to trade Soto. I’ve been saying for months that they had to do it. There was just no way to rebuild without doing. And I think they probably maximized their return by doing it at the deadline, and getting teams bidding against each other.

    And as I noted above, I think the Cards will live to regret not going all in, particularly with so many older stars on their roster. With Soto, they could have been a WS contender; without him, they may not even make the playoffs. The Padres, meanwhile, have made themselves a legit contender, one to be feared by every NL team. We’re seeing the Mets right now. Their lineup is anywhere close to the firepower the Padres have. And as the 2019 WS showed — with both teams — you can have generational pitching talent, but to actually win it all, you have to have guys good enough to hit generational pitching talent. That’s one of the unstated things about Soto: you KNOW he has no fear in the playoffs. He’s already put on a monster show on the biggest stage.

    KW

    3 Aug 22 at 12:42 pm

  16. A few thoughts:

    (1) the amount of money in contracts members of the 2018 Nats – Scherzer, Strasburg, Harper, Rendon, Soto – will end up signing after that season is going to be absolutely staggering. I wonder if it will be unprecedented? The front office and ownership deserve credit for assembling that amount of talent in the first place. They did it, and us fans got to enjoy five playoff teams, an unforgettable run in 2019, and four other memorable (but heartbreaking) postseason runs. Credit where it’s due.

    (2) It’s rare for a sports columnist to have interesting things to say across multiple sports. Usually they are experts in one domain. We’re lucky that WaPo had Boswell and continues to have Svurluga. Feinstein is more typical: he has interesting things to say about college basketball (and golf, to a lesser extent), but he is an abomination when he writes about baseball. My absolute dumbest friend has better baseball opinions than John Feinstein, who actually wrote today in an American newspaper that trading Max Scherzer last year was a mistake. On what planet? It is inconceivable that the 2021-2 Nats would have bid the most for Scherzer’s services. And if they had, it’s almost just as inconceivable that Max would have signed here. John, if you’re reading: every word you write about baseball tarnishes your reputation, so stop doing it. Also, Boras’s job is to do his clients’ bidding. If one of his clients goes to free agency…it’s because that’s what the client wants. Boras is good at his job – he represents a diverse set of clients with a diverse set of preferences, which he represents diversely depending upon those preferences. Boras is a lot better at agent-ing than John Feinstein is at writing about sports.

    (3) I think we should all be a bit more circumspect in predicting the future – especially as the future we are predicting gets more distant from today. I think we are on firm ground when we say that the Nats are going to be bad in 2023 – and would have been bad even if they kept Soto. We should be much less confident about 2024 and 2025; there is so so much time for things to happen between now and then that could change the outlook of the franchise (and note: the probability that those changes make the outlook worse is roughly equal to the probability that those changes make the outlook better). That amount of time is why I believe the Nats didn’t *have* to trade Soto right now. Things could be looking better a year from now to the point that re-engaging on an extension with Soto in the ’23-4 offseason might bear fruit. I wouldn’t predict that, but it’s not a moonshot.

    (4) I would feel better about this if I didn’t think the impending ownership change was fueling the decision to trade Soto *now.* Todd makes a strong case that trading Soto now is the right baseball move – Soto is worth more in prospects now than he will be in the future; Soto’s performance is more valuable to a better team than the Nats; Soto has sent signals that he – like countless Boras clients before him – is going to test free agency. Still, in a hypothetical world where the Lerners aren’t selling, I don’t think Soto gets traded now – they wait until the offseason. Maybe they wait until next year. For me, given how good Soto is and how much personal pleasure I would derive from him being a Nat for life, I would have waited and let the new owners take a shot at signing him.

    Derek

    3 Aug 22 at 2:37 pm

  17. Todd, KW and Derek all make good points. The one thing I disagree with that plenty of pundits have been saying is the notion that the Nats believe they couldn’t re-sign Soto. I believe that Soto was unlikely to sign an extension, but that the Nats would have had (and still do have) an equal opportunity as any other team to sign him after reaching free agency. In that regard, trading him now can be viewed as increasing those chances! If the prospect haul pans out and if new owners show a willingness to spend, the team could be in a great position to say “come home.” Of course he could fall in love with SD (or LAD/NYY/NYM/etc.), but I’d be willing to bet a lot that he will not sign an extension and will sign where the money is richest.

    Regarding Derek’s point #4, I agree that the pending sale of the team played a big role in this, but only because the Lerner’s would have probably chickened out over the fan base reaction like they did with Harper. I could easily see Rizzo pitching this trade for the exact same reasons he listed: unlikely to extend, not going to be competitive next year, maximize the return and jumpstart the rebuild now. A trade next year would have still yielded a nice return, but would have likely just been delaying the inevitable outcome instead of ripping the bandaid now. It’s no less painful.

    I can’t get upset at not giving the new owners a shot at an extension since I don’t believe they would have been successful. Let’s get on with the re-build, clear the books as much as possible and set aside $50M in payroll going in to 2025!

    MG

    3 Aug 22 at 4:52 pm

  18. Lots of intelligent commentary here. Derek, I had a similar thought about the free agents (or traded free-agents-to-be) who the Nats have lost: that they may be the first team ever to have have five guys subsequently sign for AAVs over $30M — Stras, Max, Trea, Juan, and Rendon. And Harper easily could have been #6 if he hadn’t taken that weird deal with the two-bit outfit up I-95. (Sure hope the Nats at least can keep playing spoiler to Phillie playoff chances every year, including this weekend.)

    Speaking of weird, the tango with trying to get the Lerners to spend was always an unusual one to say the least. It’s not that they didn’t spend, but all the reports seem to indicate that Rizzo (and/or Boras) had to convince them of how/when/why MLB deals were done. They never quite seemed to understand the business, and there were always reports that Mark was even more reluctant to pull the trigger than Ted. So I hope the new owners are not only willing to spend, but to follow the instincts of the baseball people without having to be so coerced.

    What to spend on? Good question. The prospects aren’t going to be the only pieces needed to get back into contention. Also, when to spend? Is 2023 going to = 2009, 2010, or 2011? For 2011, they made a big free agent splash, and for 2012, they made a huge four-for-one trade that solidified the rotation. It would make a lot of sense to get Josh Bell back for three or four years, if the price is right. As nice as it would be to bring Trea back, it’s probably too early for that big of a deal. A Dansby Swanson-level player would make a lot of sense, though (although Swanson grew up in ATL and probably doesn’t want to leave).

    That leads to another question: what positions? There’s pretty universal agreement that Garcia shouldn’t play shortstop. But should Abrams? We need to find out, and be honest in the evaluation. Several “name” shortstops available this year (with big price tags).

    The Nats will have a lot of money they can spend. The only meaningful money on the books will be the Stras and Corbin contracts. I don’t expect them to go out and buy a whole new team. But it wouldn’t take much to improve on the Maikel Franco level of talent they’re putting on the field right now.

    And yes, it would be a cool thought to think that maybe they could bring Soto back right about the time they’re getting really good again. Nearly all the players who have left the organization still have good things to say about it. I don’t think any doors have been slammed in faces going either way.

    KW

    3 Aug 22 at 9:14 pm

  19. Putting 2+2 together, I’m curious if the lack of other trades (Cruz, Edwards Jr., Cisheck) was based on the glut of players in the system following the draft and Soto/Bell trade? Assuming none of those guys would have yielding prospects worth more than org filler types, did Rizzo just say no thanks since he’ll have to release so many of those soon anyway? Finnegan is a different story and Rizzo probably felt that he can trade him in the offseason or next deadline for a similar package as what was offered now.

    MG

    4 Aug 22 at 9:05 am

  20. I think Rizzo understands that you still have an obligation to the paying customers. If he just gave everyone away it could actually get worse, maybe much worse.

    FredMD

    4 Aug 22 at 10:09 am

  21. I’m certainly one who has been saying that they should have traded Cruz, as that’s been the thought/talk basically since they signed him — flip him at the trade deadline. But then I started thinking about the reality: he’s SLG only .343, he’s still owed about $6M, and he’s 82 years old (give or take). No team is going to pay that much for that little production. Someone might have taken him if the Nats ate three-quarters of his salary, but they would have gotten almost nothing in return.

    On the flipside, Finnegan is super cheap and still has three years of team control. So if teams inquired, Riz probably told them he wanted a legit return. Obviously he didn’t get it. Cishek and Edwards and the ones (among others) who are on expiring contracts, so I thought they’d draw some interest, but apparently not enough.

    To a certain extent, I echo FredMD in being thankful that the team wasn’t diluted even more. The relievers will at least help keep them in some games. How much of those games I can stomach to watch will remain to be seen . . .

    KW

    4 Aug 22 at 1:25 pm

  22. Luke Voit (who is under team control for two more seasons) probably won’t end up being a memorable Nats, but I’ll forever love that he had the stones to request #34 . . . as the Nats were going into Philly.

    KW

    5 Aug 22 at 7:49 am

  23. […] separately reviewed this deal so I won’t go back into […]

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