November 30, 2023

In what could end up being one of the biggest trades in baseball history, Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto was expected to head to the San Diego Padres in a blockbuster deal tentatively agreed to by both teams on Tuesday.

The deal, according to people directly familiar with it and not yet authorized to speak publicly, is pending on a number of factors, including the approval of Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, whose limited no-trade protection clause allowed him to block a trade in 10 groups of his choice.

Soto, 23, has been the subject of intense trade speculation for several weeks. It is rare that one so talented and so young is sent. The most similar move in recent years was when the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox, but even then, Betts was 27 – four years older than Soto.

But after the rebuilding Nationals failed to sign Soto to a long-term contract extension — he turned down the last attempt, a 15-year, $440 million deal that would have been the largest contract in baseball history — the team began entertaining offers for the outfield. Soto is set to reach free agency in 2025, so a contending team would have him under their control for the next three pennant games even without an extension.

The Padres, with a deep farm system, agreed to give away several of their best young players and prospects in exchange for Soto and first baseman Josh Bell, a free agent at the end of this season. In the agreed-upon deal, according to people familiar with the details, the Padres would send Nationals shortstop CJ Abrams, right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, Hosmer and outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood.

Abrams, who made his major league debut in April, and Gore, who recently landed on the major league injured list with an elbow injury, were each once the Padres’ top overall prospect. Hassell currently holds that title, according to the MLB prospect rankings, while Wood, a 6-foot-1 center fielder, is ranked third. All (except Hosmer) are 23 or younger.

The expected addition of Soto to the Padres would put them in World Series contention. Trailing the Dodgers by 12 games in the NL West race through Monday, San Diego is in prime position to clinch one of the league’s three wild-card spots. Soto would join a dangerous lineup that includes All-Star third baseman Manny Machado, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. (who is expected to return soon from a wrist injury), All-Star second baseman Jake Cronenworth and Bell, who was hitting . 301 before trade.

Soto, a two-time All-Star, hit .246 with 21 home runs and an .894 on-base plus slugging percentage in 101 games for the Nationals in 2022. He won the 2019 World Series, a 2020 batting title and a home run Derby last month. Since his rookie season in 2018, only nine players have accumulated more wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs.

Hosmer, 32, signed an eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres before the 2018 season, a sign the rebuilding franchise wanted to start contending. Compared to his time in Kansas City, where he won the 2015 World Series, Hosmer has largely underperformed in San Diego, particularly in power hitting. But he was viewed as a team leader and was hitting .272 in 90 games for the Padres this season. After this year, he will be owed $39 million over the final three years of his contract.

Whether he approves the deal — or the Nationals and Padres complete the trade anyway — one of the biggest names in baseball appears to be on the move, changing the balance of the sport.

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