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After trading Soto, Nats expects ‘restart’ to progress even faster

WASHINGTON — The Nationals picked up a historic number of prospects in their deadline trade on Tuesday as they shipped Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres. This does not mean that they intend to enter into a long-term reconstruction.

By parting ways with their 23-year-old superstar outfielder at the peak of his trade value, the Nationals ensured they would attract a controllable group of young players loaded with potential. President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo explained in his post-trade press conference why he thinks it pushes their schedule further.

“I think we’ve taken several steps forward,” Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said at a press conference after the trade. “It speeds up the process. I think you lose generational talent like that, but you put five key pieces on your future league roster with last year’s trade deadline and the last three drafts and the last three international signing spells. We’ve put into this system, over the last three years, 15 or 16 high-quality, well-equipped players who have a very impactful future ahead of them.

His comments ring true to those from a year ago, when the Nationals traded Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of six expiring deals. It was then that Rizzo first highlighted the three-year rebuilding process he led from 2009 to 2012 as part of the ‘reboot’ the club is currently undergoing.

If the previous rebuild is the model for this restart, then the Nationals should look to make a step forward next season before returning to contender status in 2024. They lost 103 games in 2009 (97 in 2021) and 93 in 2010 (on pace for 106 this year) before going 80-81 in 2011 and jumping to a 98-win season in 2012.

“The prospect capital that we received, I think that speeds up the process,” Rizzo reiterated. “Because it doesn’t just give us the players that perform on the pitch, it opens up other avenues of revenue and payroll and that sort of thing.”

RELATED: Juan Soto’s legendary Nats career came to an abrupt end amid a losing season

With all due respect to veteran first baseman Luke Voit, the real prizes of the trade were the other five players returned to the Nation’s Capital: shortstop CJ Abrams, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Robert Hassell III, outfielder James Wood and right-hander pitcher Jarlin Susana.

Abrams and Gore made their MLB debuts this season after entering the year as consensus top prospects. Hassell was the best player yet in the Padres’ farm system while Wood and Susana have flashy tools that give them an exciting edge. But when it comes to when these players will be able to make an impact in the majors, their trajectories vary.

Abrams and Gore both had a taste of the majors, but the former struggled mightily at home plate while the latter suffered an elbow injury that should sideline him for the rest of the season. Abrams was also traded to the Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate immediately after the trade was completed. It’s going to be a while before the pair of former first-round picks hit the court together at Nationals Park.

As for the other three prospects, none of them played a game above High-A. Hassell is a candidate to reach Double-A before the end of the summer, but the 20-year-old is only in his second full professional season. Wood and Susana are each teenagers with a few more years of development ahead of them.

Even before Tuesday’s trade, most of the Nationals’ best prospects resided in the lower tiers of the minor leagues. Some of their best players are their last two first-round picks Brady House, currently struggling with a single-A back injury, and Elijah Green, who has yet to make his pro debut. The best international signings of the last two years Cristhian Vaquero and Armando Cruz are just starting their careers.

Of course, pitching prospects Cade Cavalli and Cole Henry should have the opportunity to test their talents at the majors, either immediately or early next season. Wide receiver Keibert Ruiz and right-hander Josiah Gray, the biggest headliners of last year’s deadline moves, showed encouraging signs in their first full seasons in MLB. Shortstop Luis García had some hot moments on the flat with occasional plays on the field.

The Nationals will also have to end their shortage of free agent spending at some point. They have not signed any multi-year agreements in the past two years. Finding value in free agency has been a key part of the Nationals’ success from 2012 through 2019 and likely should be again if 2024 is the target year. It may be something that a potential new owner makes a priority if a sale goes through.

In the meantime, the Nationals are building something in DC With a Soto-sized hole now sitting in right field, the time this building process takes is something fans will be watching seriously.

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