Soto, Bell introduced: 'Good luck to the other pitchers'

August 4th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Sometime late Monday night, Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller approached manager Bob Melvin with the details of a potential trade. That trade, Preller informed Melvin, would not only see the club net superstar Juan Soto, as had been rumored for weeks. It would also include Josh Bell, perhaps the second-best slugger available on the market this summer.

Melvin had already made it clear to Preller that he didn't want to hear about any trades until they were "on the two-yard-line." So when Preller approached him, he knew those talks were serious.

"He started messing around pretty quickly with lineups," Preller said with a grin. "His first thing was: 'Yeah, I like this. This works.'"

A day and a half later, that lineup became a reality. Soto and Bell joined the Padres and were in the starting lineup against the Rockies on Wednesday night. Soto batted second and played right, while Bell batted fourth at first base. (Manny Machado batted third, between them.)

Soto -- who was introduced alongside Bell in a press conference at the Petco Park auditorium on Wednesday -- offered something of a warning for what the Padres lineup might look like down the stretch, particularly when Fernando Tatis Jr. returns from his left wrist fracture this month.

"It's going to be really tough to go through," Soto said. "I wish good luck to the other pitchers."

And, ultimately, that's the point of this deal. The Padres gave up an awful lot to get Soto and Bell, sending one of the biggest trade hauls in recent memory to the Nationals.

But they got a lot, too. They not only solidified their offensive weakness -- they doubled down on acquiring the power they so desperately needed. On top of that, they fortified their bullpen by dealing for Josh Hader earlier in the week, and they significantly bulked up their bench by landing Brandon Drury from Cincinnati. Drury was in the starting lineup, DH-ing and batting sixth.

"It's an exciting time," Bell said. "The time is now for the Padres, so let's get after it."

An exciting time indeed. The Padres sold out their downtown ballpark for Wednesday's game against the Rockies. Lines stretched around the block on Trevor Hoffman Way hours before first pitch in anticipation. A championship-starved city has clearly responded to its team's all-in push for a title.

"We can look anybody in the eye now," said Padres owner Peter Seidler. "Whatever it is -- starting pitchers, relief pitchers, depth. Whatever our starting nine looks like, any given day, the options we have for Bob Melvin, it's taken the whole thing to another level.

"It's electric here this year every single night. But it's going to hit a level tonight that we haven't yet seen. It's going to be so much fun here at the ballpark."

That's largely a credit to Seidler, whose investment has reached new heights lately. The Padres seem destined to go beyond the CBT threshold they'd hoped to avoid. But to fill out the roster the way Preller has -- and to add a player like Soto -- Seidler says it's absolutely worth it.

"I've never had a fan ask me about money," Seidler said. "We're very well-funded as an organization, and to the fans' credit and the sponsors' credit, we've grown revenue, reflective of the players that we've brought in."

The next major financial question the Padres face will be about Soto's long-term place on this roster. The Padres traded an exorbitant amount for 2 1/2 years of contractual control with Soto. He will become a free agent after the 2024 season.

This is a team that has locked up Machado, Tatis and Joe Musgrove to long-term contracts. Might Soto be next?

It's a question for another day. On his first day in San Diego, Soto said he hadn't yet thought much about his long-term future.

"I just came in and I'm just thinking about winning," Soto said. "I'm just coming to this clubhouse, bringing the energy that I have, all the good vibes that I have to bring here. It's just to win. I'm concentrating on this year."

Soto, of course, moved from the last-place Nationals to the Padres, who find themselves 14 games over .500 in the thick of the NL playoff picture. Plus, they've upgraded nearly every major flaw on their roster.

When Soto and Preller spoke for the first time on Tuesday, there was only one thing on both of their minds.

"All of the conversations were about winning," Soto said. "Let's win. Let's bring that good energy to the clubhouse and the stadium. Let's come here and try to win, try to bring my experience from 2019 as a World Series champ and try to bring that here to San Diego."