So Long, Soto
The Washington Nationals — wow, it has not been the best couple of years, has it? They win the 2019 World Series in one of the more unlikely and bizarre seasons in memory (started the year 19-31, won the World Series without winning a single World Series game at home, etc.).
Then a pandemic sweeps the world, the Nationals never get to celebrate their World Series title in front of their home fans, they don’t get any bounce whatsoever from their victory. They lose Anthony Rendon to free agency and bet on the wrong horse in Stephen Strasburg. They fail to lock up Trea Turner and end up, in 2021, shipping him off to the Dodgers as part of the “let’s try to help Los Angeles win a World Series” deadline deal.
And in a short time, the Nationals went from:
2019: World Series champs!
2020: 26-34 in a lost season for all.
2021: 65-97 where the only thing worth watching was Juan Soto.
2022: 35-69, worst team in baseball, and now no Juan Soto to watch, either.
That’s some epic stuff, right there. I wrote on Twitter that the Nationals have put on a master class of turning a World Series champion into bleep in just two and a half years, and numerous people have chimed in to compare this to what the Marlins did in 1998 or what the Royals did after the 2015 World Series or what the Cubs have done in recent years.
But — and I mean no offense to the putridity of those teams’ collapses — this feels different. The 1998 Marlins teardown was certainly heroic in its own way, but let’s be honest: Those Marlins were like a Hollywood set. They were built up only to be torn down the minute the job was done. They were born in 1994, no good until 1997, won a World Series, and then sold all the pieces off. That was its own mess.
As for the Cubs — there certainly was no teardown there. They won the World Series in 2016, reached the NLCS in 2017 and won 95 games in 2018. That team just didn’t age as well as people thought it would.
And the Royals — the problem there was the opposite; Dayton Moore and the team did everything they could to keep that team together for as long as they could, and unfortunately they weren’t that good a team. They quickly became average and the next year and a terrible team shortly after that.
But this Nationals team — they had spent the entire decade building a team, enduring the heartbreaks, refusing to go where they needed to go to keep Bryce Harper. And after 2019, other than going for broke on Strasburg — an ill-fated decision — they just let this team rust over until there was nothing left.
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This Juan Soto deal, well, it’s not QUITE unprecedented, but it’s pretty close. Teams do not trade 23-year-old superstars who are on their way to the Hall of Fame. In fact, let’s look at all 13 of the Hall of Famers since 1945 who were traded by the time they turned 25 years old — because that’s just what we do here at JoeBlogs.
Traded: From Padres to Blue Jays.
Reason: This was an old-fashioned baseball trade where both teams were trying to get better. The Padres got Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. The Blue Jays got Alomar and Joe Carter. In retrospect, the Blue Jays obviously won the deal big (and won two World Series in the bargain) but at the time, this was just a deal featuring four really good players.
Traded: From Minnesota to Texas
Reason: The Twins traded Blyleven because he was constantly grumping about being underpaid in Minnesota. It’s fair to say that nobody viewed Blyleven then as a future Hall of Fame pitcher; his record was just 99-90, and record was pretty much how everybody judged pitchers then.
Traded: From Cubs to St. Louis
Reason: “We hate to lose Brock,” the Cubs’ Bob Kennedy said. “And we think they’re getting a damn good ballplayer. But when you get a chance to fortify yourself in two places, you’ve got to go for it.” Sure! Ernie Broglio went 7-19 for the Cubs in parts of three seasons. Doug Clemens was gone in less than two years. Brock, meanwhile, did OK for St. Louis.
Traded: From Cleveland to Boston
Reason: There was no reason, this was pure madness, but my favorite explanation came from team president Gabe Paul, who said that with the four young players the Red Sox gave up for Eckersley, Cleveland would have a good chance to move from fifth place in the division into a real battle for third. What more could anyone want?
Traded: From Philadelphia to the White Sox
Reason: It was a minor deal as Nelson Fox — as he was known then — was nothing more than a young utility infielder for Philadelphia. Starting in 1951, Fox made the All-Star Game in 11 consecutive seasons.
Traded: From White Sox to Pittsburgh
Reason: Manager Chuck Tanner had managed Gossage in Chicago and wanted him badly in Pittsburgh. He saw an opportunity because after he left Chicago, the White Sox decided to turn Gossage into a starting pitcher with somewhat disastrous results. “He throws the ball like Rollie Fingers,” Tanner insisted, so the Pirates traded Richie Zisk to Pittsburgh for Gossage and moved him back into the bullpen. The rest is history.
Traded: From Marlins to Padres
Reason: Well, Hoffman was a converted infielder with a live arm and little more. The Padres were trading one of the best hitters in baseball, Gary Sheffield. The Marlins won one World Series out of it. The Padres got years and years of Hells Bells.
Traded: From Philadelphia to Cubs
Reason: There have always been people who have surmised that the Phillies traded Jenkins, at least in part, because he was Black. Looking at the history, I suspect there’s more than a bit of truth in that. It was obviously one of the best trades in baseball history for the Cubs, and one of the worst trades in baseball history for the Phillies. Which leads us to …
Traded: From Philadelphia to Cubs
Reason: It’s funny, looking back, how Sandberg was barely an afterthought in the media coverage. To the sportswriters, this was a Larry Bowa-for-Ivan DeJesus deal. But Sandberg was a massive talent; he dominated Class AA as a 20-year-old and was pretty darn good in Class AAA as a 21-year-old. If people had covered prospects then like they do now, he’d certainly have been a Top 10 prospect and the prize of the deal.
Traded: From Montreal to Seattle
Reason: The Expos seemed to think Mark Langston was all that was keeping them from winning it all … in January, people had inquired about Johnson only to find out he was “untouchable.” But with the possibility of getting Langston, the Expos went all in, and traded away Big Unit, who, it is true, was taking a long time to develop. He would not become a star until his late 20s.
Traded: From Philadelphia to Detroit
Reason: Look, when you get a chance at Barney McCosky, you gotta take it. McCosky was a star player for Detroit before the war, and after he got off to a terrible start in Detroit, the Tigers put him on the market. Philadelphia pounced … and McCosky had some good seasons for the Athletics. Detroit got a good-fielding third baseman named George Kell, who won a batting title and, many decades later, was voted into the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee.
Traded: From Dodgers to Montreal
Reason: Best I can tell, this was just a big whiff by the Dodgers. From what I’ve gathered on this deal through the years, my takeaway is the Los Angeles brass thought Martinez was too small and too slight to be a starter in the big leagues. They fully expected him to break down.
Traded: From Mets to Angels
Reason: For a complete rundown on this deal, check out the excellent documentary “Facing Nolan,” which is streaming (and quite successfully) on Apple TV. And if you do check it out, you might just see some thoughts from, I don’t know, some newsletter guy you know and love.
So there’s the 13. And, as you probably saw, none of them compare whatsoever to the Nationals trading of Soto. MAYBE the Alomar trade was a little bit similar in that Alomar had already established himself as one of the best second basemen in baseball. But Soto is better. Much better. When Alomar was traded, nobody was talking about him as a future Hall of Famer.
EVERYBODY talks about Juan Soto as a future Hall of Famer.
There is one trade to compare this with — you’ve probably already gone there. In December of 2007, the Florida Marlins traded 24-year-old Miguel Cabrera to Detroit for a selection of top prospects.
Cabrera was unquestionably already a major star — he’d received some MVP consideration in each and every one of his five seasons. He’d hit .313/.388/.542 over those five seasons. He was a massive superstar and just coming into his prime.
To get him (and Dontrelle Willis), the Tigers had to give up: the No. 6 prospect in baseball, the No. 10 prospect in baseball, a fairly promising fireball pitcher, a couple of somewhat promising sinkerball pitchers and minor league catcher with some defensive skills.
If that No. 6 prospect and No. 10 prospect in baseball had panned out — in 2014, for example, the No. 6 prospect in baseball might have been Carlos Correa and the No. 11 prospect might have been Kris Bryant — then this trade would not have turned into the flaming disaster it became for the Marlins.
But in this case, No. 6 was Cameron Maybin, who did not, as hoped, turn into Ken Griffey Jr. And No. 10 was Andrew Miller, who much later became a bullpen super weapon, the key words being “much later.”
Such is the risk of trading for prospects. It’s roulette. People usually lose at roulette.
Again, though, I would argue that the Nationals trading Soto now is even more appalling and grotesque than the Marlins trading Miggy. For one thing, as great as Miguel Cabrera is — he will be going to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot — I think at this stage of their careers, Soto is even better. He dominates the strike zone in ways that boggle the mind; it’s no coincidence that people constantly compare him to Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.
Who else are you going to compare him with?
For another, the Marlins have been a wreck of a baseball team forever. They always trade away their best young players before free agency. This is just what they do. They have no money. Their attendance is miserable. Their television deal is laughable. Nothing about baseball in Miami really adds up or makes a lot of sense.
But the Nationals — this is not a small-market team. This is not a team that should get outbid by Philadelphia for Harper. This is not a team that should trade a once-in-a-generation player at age 22 because, what, they’re hoping to be relevant again in, like 2026?
Then again, I often find myself on the opposite side of most people in such arguments. See, to me, if I were a Nationals fan, I’d want to watch Juan Soto grow old in this game. That would matter to me. I’d want to see him get his 3,000th hit. I’d want to see him hit his 500th home run. I’d want to see him go into the Hall of Fame with a Nationals cap on his head. I’d want all the memories.
But maybe that stuff doesn’t matter as much these days when the entire focus is on winning. The Nationals did get a bunch of prospects here, and some of them have a pretty good upside, and while the likelihood is that MacKenzie Gore isn’t ever going to win a Cy Young award and C.J. Abrams won’t ever become Derek Jeter, and James Wood won’t hit 50 home runs in a season and Robert Hassell won’t end up being Carlos Beltran … I mean, you never know. I’ve already heard from Nats’ fans who are happy (or at least satisfied) that the team dealt Soto now, while his value is high, rather than waiting and not signing him later.*
*A couple of people pointed out that Soto turned down Washington’s $440 million deal; but that was not a serious offer. It sounds like a serious offer because of the top-line price, but it was a FIFTEEN-YEAR deal, meaning that they were offering him $29 million per year, which is way less than Anthony Rendon, among others, got.
I can see their point … the Nationals were not going anywhere with Juan Soto in the near future.
But, I guess for me, it comes down to this: Yesterday I could go to a Nationals game and watch one of the best hitters who ever lived.
And today I can’t. And, to be honest, today I can’t think of a single other reason to watch the Nationals play.