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Mike Rizzo and the Washington Nationals won the Juan Soto Trade: It’s not close

Former Washington Nationals star Juan Soto is a special talent. Heck, he’s viewed as a future Hall of Famer at the age of 25. He’s also been traded twice in just over a year.

Now, Soto is headed to the Bronx to play with the New York Yankees in his final year before free agency. New York will attempt to sign him long-term, which won’t be cheap. But it could send the franchise on a path to success they haven’t seen in over a decade. Landing Soto was a big deal. Keeping him will be even bigger.

In his six big league seasons, Soto hasn’t finished with an on-base percentage (OBP) lower than .400. That’s a pretty good starting point for building a monster of a baseball player. He’s also finished in the top-10 of the NL MVP voting four times, is a four-time Silver Slugger, three-time All Star, and since his debut in 2018, he has been the fourth-best hitter in baseball with a 154 wRC+ (100 is league average).

One of the players above him on that list is now his teammate in Aaron Judge. The other two are Mike Trout (172) and Yordan Alvarez (166).

When the Washington Nationals traded Soto, they were not only looking to capitalize on the remaining team control, which stood at just over two seasons when he was moved in August of 2022, but they were also trying to strip the roster down a bit in preparation for a potential sale of the franchise.

That sale still hasn’t happened, but the Nats scored a pretty solid return for the star of their franchise. The Padres received some very solid players in their own Soto swap, but how that deal is viewed could depend on whether the Yankees retain Soto long-term.

Players Washington got in the Juan Soto trade

  • Shortstop CJ Abrams
  • Starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore
  • Outfield prospect Robert Hassell 
  • Outfield prospect James Wood
  • Pitching prospect Jarlin Susana
  • First baseman Luke Voit

We already know that Soto is no longer with the Padres. And after San Diego missed the postseason in 2023, let’s take a look at just how well the Nationals made out in the original Juan Soto trade.

Related: Juan Soto trade winners and losers

MacKenzie Gore’s consistency is key for Washington Nationals

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Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

According to MLB Pipeline, when he was traded, Gore was San Diego’s No. 4 prospect. But he was having trouble with his command as his mechanics faltered. He was traded to Washington as a player that the Padres didn’t have time to wait on as they assembled a super team that was ready for a World Series run. A little over a year later, the Padres are hoping they can be in playoff contention after trading Soto away while the Nationals are on the rise.

In his first season with Washington, Gore finished with a 4.43 ERA in his age-24 season. The lefty held a 1.40 WHIP, struck out 25.9% of the batters he faced and walked 9.8% in 135.1 innings. The key to the ’23 season was that he was able to stay healthy, be effective, and get that much-needed experience. He posted a 3.76 ERA across five August starts before his season ended, leading to some optimism heading into 2024.

The projections for next season at FanGraphs have him improving a little more, posting a 4.16 ERA in 152 innings with his walk and strikeout rates staying mostly the same. One big difference they have for him next year is that his home run rate is going to go from 1.78 home runs per nine innings down to 1.27. Gore allowed 27 long balls in 2023, and if he can take a few of those off the top, even if he’s the same pitcher that ERA will go down.

Gore isn’t “there” yet, but you can see the makings of a pretty good, reliable starter that could be at least a number three in the rotation.

Related: Washington Nationals sale reportedly paused through 2023 season

C.J. Abrams shows improvement for Nationals

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Abrams was San Diego’s top prospect at the time of the trade. After getting some time in the Padres infield in 2022 before the deal, he has been Washington’s starting shortstop since. In 195 games with the Nationals, Abrams, still just 23, has hit .248 with a .295 OBP, 18 home runs, and 53 stolen bases.

While those numbers may not be super-impressive on the whole, it should be noted that in his first 44 games with the club in ’22, Abrams had zero home runs and six stolen bases. He hit .258, but his OBP was also 24 points lower than in 2023 at .276.

Abrams has already made tremendous strides year over year, which has to have Nationals fans salivating at what he’ll do in 2024. Heck, he was nearly a 20/20 player in his first full season!

The projections on Abrams show some progress for next season and have him hitting .261 with a .311 OBP and his strikeout rate going down 1.5% to 17.7%. They also have him down for another 18 homers and 36 stolen bases while he creeps closer to a league-average wRC+ at 96. Like Gore, he’s a work in progress. But the talent he’s showing is tantalizing.

James Wood is knocking on the door for the Nats

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Wood was San Diego’s No. 5 prospect when the deal went down. For those keeping score at home, that’s three of the team’s top five prospects (with one more on the way) that went to Washington in this trade.

Wood reached Double-A Harrisburg in 2023, getting into 87 games and making a case that he should get a look sometime in 2024. Wood has played either center or right field in his time in the Washington Nationals organization, and where he ends up could depend on where the franchise wants to put Victor Robles, who will be a free agent following the ’24 season.

In his 87 games at Double-A, Wood hit .248 with a .334 OBP, 18 homers and 10 stolen bases. He is Pipeline’s No. 7 prospect in all of baseball, joining Dylan Crews (No. 4) as Nationals prospects in the top 10. Crews was selected second overall in the 2023 draft and played the majority of his games in center with Harrisburg (14 of 20), so he is yet another highly touted option for Washington to consider at the position.

Wood is listed at 6-foot-6 and still grades out as a plus runner on the scouting scale. That’s the kind of skill set this guy has. The one knock on him heading into 2024 is that his strikeout rate was 33.7% over 368 plate appearances in Double-A. That’s going to need to come down. That said, he’s still just 21 years old, so he has some time to figure it out. The sky could literally be the limit for Wood.

The rest of the original Juan Soto trade

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Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

It honestly feels wrong putting Robert Hassell III in the “extras” portion of this trade given that he is a former Top 100 prospect, ranking as highly as No. 26 by Baseball Prospectus ahead of the 2022 season, and was San Diego’s No. 2 prospect at the time of the deal, but here we are. Hassell, 21, spent most of the season in Double-A, batting .225 with a .317 OBP, eight homers and 13 stolen bases.

It was a down year for him, and he hasn’t quite gotten on track since the trade. He was the eighth overall pick in 2020, so he has loads of talent. But with so many outfield options for the Nationals to consider, he may be left behind before long. That said, he did have a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League, batting .290 with a .366 OBP, one home run and six stolen bases in 20 games.

Jarlin Susana spent all season in Single-A as a 19-year-old right-hander, starting 17 games and holding a 5.14 ERA. He is currently listed as Washington’s No. 12 prospect and has touched 103 miles per hour with his fastball. Like most hard-throwing pitchers, learning to command his pitches will be what determines his success moving forward.

Luke Voit came over, hit nine home runs, and was granted free agency after the 2022 season.

The Nationals were already well on their way to building their farm system, but this deal may have expedited that return to contention. While it’s never great for the fans to trade away a superstar talent like Soto, the World Series win in 2019 may have made the move a little easier to deal with.

If the Washington Nationals didn’t feel like they were going to be able to sign Juan Soto long-term, then trading him when they did was probably the right call for the long-term health of the franchise. They also landed a haul for his services that would have been near-impossible to turn down.

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