What the Soto deal means for the Padres

December 7th, 2023

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In doing so, they addressed their biggest area of need, they stabilized their outlook beyond the 2024 season and they gained a measure of payroll flexibility to make further moves this winter.

But that doesn't change the fact: The Padres traded Juan Soto. No matter the return -- and San Diego brought back a haul that featured five solid players who should all contribute in 2024 -- it was always going to sting, even if the trade seemed likely for weeks.

"Trading an impact, A-lane, perennial All-Star, Hall of Fame-type player?" GM A.J. Preller said. "You like when you're acquiring those type of players. ... [It's] a little bit exciting and disappointing. You're talking about a future Hall of Famer. We've been on both ends of it."

The Padres have now traded for Soto in a blockbuster. And traded Soto away in a blockbuster. Believe me, I get it. The latter is a whole lot less fun.

But I think a couple things can be true:

1. It hurts to lose Soto -- mainly because the Padres never quite reached the heights they envisioned with Soto on board. The 2022 season was a success. But San Diego fell well short of expectations in '23, and trading Soto feels like an acknowledgement of the Padres' inability to reach their goals.

2. Trading Soto doesn't preclude the Padres from reaching those goals. And in some ways, this particular trade helps mitigate the loss of Soto, while ensuring the Padres' window for contention remains open longer than it would've been had Soto simply left in free agency next winter.

"The ability to add players that are controllable, that we have for multiple years, from a big-picture perspective, it was a move that just opened up a lot of different avenues for us," Preller said.

The early 1990s Padres “Fire Sale,” this was not.

"We're going to run very competitive payrolls over the next five years," Preller said. "I think we're going to run a very competitive payroll this year. But it's just like: What's the best way to use [those] dollars, that player?

"Ultimately we decided to go add five players that are going to potentially play on our roster this year."

The Padres’ core remains largely intact. They still have Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish on board for the long haul. They've now supplemented that core with some of the depth they were looking for.

It came at an incredibly steep cost. But not a debilitating one.

The offseason remains young. The Padres can absolutely make moves to solidify a playoff-caliber roster. It's telling how Preller and new manager Mike Shildt have reiterated recently that their aim is to win the NL West in 2024, which would end an 18-year drought. Preller doubled down on that stated goal last night.

"You've got to be really good to win in the NL West," Preller said. "We're going to do what we can to balance our roster, have a really complete roster, because that's what you need."

The 2023 Padres were a disappointment. They entered the year with World Series ambitions, then finished 82-80, outside the playoff picture. There were myriad reasons for that failure. The lack of organizational depth ranks somewhat high among them.

Then again, so does the team's inability to win games it should've won. The Padres were 9-23 in one-run games. They started 0-12 in extra innings. Those outcomes often change season-to-season. Given the talent on the current roster, I don't think it's outlandish to believe things will be better in 2024 without Soto.

That's no fault of Soto's. He was spectacular in 2023 and a joy to watch in the '22 postseason. But the Padres -- if they can round out their offseason with a few shrewd moves -- still have the means to set lofty goals for themselves in ‘24. That’s true, no matter how badly trading Soto stings in the moment.