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Padres’ Soto trade extends free spend quest to catch Dodgers

For two years, the San Diego Padres have spent big money in a so far unsuccessful attempt to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. That race for the money picked up a lot of steam ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, when the Padres grabbed outfielder Juan Soto as part of a deal from the Washington Nationals.

With Soto, San Diego secured the biggest market price, while adding first baseman Josh Bell to the package.

“He’s a generational player,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said of Soto after the deal was completed. “We’re on a bumpy road now, and we think this deal we’ve reached is going to get us out of this. We have reached what is called a historic agreement. I call that a good deal for the Nationals and Padres at this point in the history of both our franchises.

With the first-place Dodgers past the deadline, leading the Padres by 11½ games in the National League West, Soto’s trade continues the teams’ heated off-field competition for talent.

The Dodgers nabbed Boston outfielder Mookie Betts ahead of the 2020 season, gave him a 12-year, $365 million contract and won the World Series — after sweeping the Padres in that NL Division series.

The Padres retaliated the following spring by signing Fernando Tatis for 14, $340 million, which so far has paid little dividend due to the shortstop’s injuries.

Then, at the 2021 trade deadline, the Padres thought they had picked up star pitcher Max Scherzer from the Nationals, but the Dodgers prevailed. The Padres missed the playoffs, finishing 11 away games. The Dodgers lost a six-game NL championship series to the World Series-winning Atlanta Braves.

That brings us to where the Padres are now after a flurry of trades this week and a five-year, $100 million contract extension with starter Joe Musgrove, a local San Diego product. Tatis, who is recovering from surgery on a broken left wrist, could be back this month.

“Without Tatis for the first half of the season, we were challenged offensively,” Padres general manager AJ Preller said at a late afternoon news conference on Tuesday. “We are better now. We think we have put ourselves in a position where we can play until October. »

In the short term, however, the Padres have lost their last 14 of 15 to the Dodgers the past two seasons, and even with 12 more games left between the two teams this year, including three at Dodger Stadium this weekend. , that NL The race in the West seems to be over.

In the new 12-team playoff format — six teams in each league — the Padres are barely secure right now, holding second of the Wild Cards’ three spots, leading the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies now tied for third place by 3 1/2 games.

If the season were to end today, the Padres would have to travel to Atlanta for a best-of-three Wild Card series with all games at Truist Park.

If they survived that, the NL East-winning New York Mets would be next in a five-division NL series. And then maybe the Dodgers again in the NLCS best of seven. The two division winners from each league with the best records get a bye in the Wild Card round.

It’s a tall mountain to climb at the World Series for only the third time in club history. They never won. And this year, they would have to win 14 games to accomplish the feat.

This is the objective for the immediate future.

The Padres traded two of their top prospects with big-league experience in pitcher MacKenzie Gore and shortstop CJ Abrams, along with three coveted minor leaguers as part of the deal for Soto, who is under scrutiny. arbitration for the next two seasons.

After the 2024 season where Soto becomes a free agent, Scott Boras, his agent, has already declared that the player will go to the highest bidder. Soto turned down a recent 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals, leading the club, which is up for sale, to process him.

“We envision it as having it for three pennant races,” Preller said. “It’s a lot of time. We’ll obviously get to that and figure out the long term further down the road.

The Padres seem to have given up a lot of talent, given this short and very difficult window. They rival a Dodgers club run by Guggenheim Baseball Management, whose parent company runs a $500 billion hedge fund and has seemingly endless money.

The Mets, owned by hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen, have made several incremental improvements via the market over the past week, but have not traded any of their top 19 prospects, general manager Billy Eppler said during a post-deadline videoconference.

“You have to resist the urge to make a quick or impulsive decision and give up large amounts of future expectations for the World Series in exchange for marginal gains right now,” he said. “Some of that undisciplined thinking can lead to years of mediocrity and doing the same thing over and over again.”

Eppler wasn’t talking about the Padres specifically, but the sentiment matches.

Under billionaire owner Peter Seidler, the Padres are fifth in baseball with a $220.8 million payroll just below the original $230 million luxury tax threshold. Of that figure, $30.4 million is paid to injured players and $29 million to players no longer on the roster, many of whom play elsewhere.

They have a long-term commitment to Manny Machado, who owes $30 million a year through 2028 with an option to opt out after the 2023 season. The club can opt out of Wil Myers’ $20 million this offseason and he pay $1 million.

Pitchers Yu Darvish ($20 million) and Blake Snell ($16 million) are each a year older. Musgrove is now signed for $20 million a year until 2027.

Soto makes $6 million of his $17.1 million to play for the Padres the rest of the season. That latter figure will almost certainly double through arbitration next season if the Padres don’t sign him to at least a two-year contract.

These are the pending decisions for Seidler and Preller.

“When the time is right,” Preller said, “I’m sure we’ll have those conversations.”

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