Soto dealt to Yanks for promising crop of pitchers

December 7th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sixteen months after the Trade Deadline blockbuster that brought him to San Diego, is no longer a Padre.

As the Winter Meetings wrapped up in Nashville on Wednesday night, the star outfielder was dealt to the Yankees in a seven-player deal that also sent center fielder Trent Grisham to New York. In return, San Diego received a five-player package centered around the pitching it so desperately needed.

Here’s the full deal:

Padres get: RHP , RHP , C , RHP Drew Thorpe (Yankees' No. 5 prospect), RHP Randy Vásquez (Yankees' No. 13 prospect)
Yankees get: OF Juan Soto, OF

Soto, of course, is one of the best hitters in the sport in his prime, on a trajectory that might have him headed to Cooperstown. But he's also in his final season of arbitration before he is expected to hit free agency next winter. Additionally, he's due a raise on the $23 million he made in 2023.

"It's very difficult to make a deal where you're trading a player the caliber of Juan Soto," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. "But if we did that, we wanted to make sure we shored up a bunch of needs. We were able to get some depth, with quality."

The Padres -- with a number of holes on their roster, and especially on their pitching staff -- chose to use Soto to help fill those voids. In the meantime, they stabilized their long-term roster outlook and freed up significant funds to spend elsewhere in free agency or on trades.

The additions were sensible. The Padres needed rotation help in both the short- and long-term. They got both. King is a mid-rotation piece with two more years of control while Brito helps stabilize the current staff depth. Thorpe and Vásquez are on board to bolster an already strong farm system, though Preller noted that he expects both to contribute with the big league club in 2024.

"We needed pitching," Preller said. "We knew we had some free-agent defections here this offseason. … We get some pitchers that, from our perspective, are going to be with us for the next four or five years. A group that we can build with."

The Padres also needed a catcher to pair with presumed starter Luis Campusano. They got that in Higashioka, a strong defensive backstop who has posted a .647 OPS across parts of seven seasons. Higashioka is a free agent after the upcoming season.

But however practical the acquisitions were, it didn't make trading Soto an easy pill to swallow. When the Padres sent a boatload of young talent to the Nationals at the 2022 Deadline, they envisioned having Soto on board for three separate playoff runs. They got only one.

"Trading an impact, A-lane, perennial All-Star, Hall of Fame-type player?" Preller said. "You like when you're acquiring those type of players."

Preller noted that 10 teams called the Padres to discuss potential Soto trades over the past week or so. When asked what it was like having a trade chip like Soto to dangle, Preller grew rueful for the first time.

"A little bit exciting and disappointing," Preller said. "You're talking about a future Hall of Famer. We've been on both ends of it."

Indeed, they have. On Aug. 2, 2022, the Padres sent a package of six players to the Nationals to acquire Soto.

San Diego reached the playoffs that season, with Soto as a key October contributor in the team's run to its first NLCS in 24 years. But while Soto starred in 2023 -- slashing .275/.410/.519 with 35 homers -- the team floundered and missed the postseason.

Sensing that Soto was unlikely to sign a long-term extension in San Diego, the Padres pivoted. Preller said a formal extension was never presented to Soto, but through talks with his representatives, the team felt it was unlikely he'd sign long-term.

From there, the Padres had two options: They could stick Soto in the middle of their 2024 lineup and let him hit the market after the '24 season. Or they could recoup value, while gaining some measure of financial flexibility to make further moves this winter.

"From a big-picture perspective, it was a move that just opened up a lot of different avenues for us, and that definitely was part of our thought process," Preller said.

One of those avenues will be acquiring another outfielder. Maybe two. The Padres didn't merely trade Soto, after all. They also dealt a two-time Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder in Grisham.

On the pitching side, there was value to be gained by dealing Soto and helping to fill out a rotation that saw the departures of Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and Nick Martinez. But Preller was still quick to note that, yes, "We're going to keep looking to add starting pitching."

With a core of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove already in place, the Padres still believe deeply that they can build a contending roster -- in 2024 and beyond.

That's harder to do without Soto than with him. But after a week that was largely uneventful for most other clubs, the Padres managed to depart the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, having addressed their biggest need in a major way.

The price? Undeniably steep.