One of the more striking aspects of this exercise is how much the Juan Soto trade continues to dominate discussion about the Nationals present and future. Whether this reflects our adapting to the loss of a truly beloved superstar we thought would go into Cooperstown as a Nat, or whether it was akin to Cinema Paradiso’s teardown of the remaining vestige of 2019 glory, the stages of grief are on display here and elsewhere. They will be for at least a few years, too, because of the “retool” that from the start, offered promise of both early and later returns. “Hope” is one thing. “Hope just around the corner” means Mentsch tracht. Un Gott (corrections appreciated) lacht.
For a little while, those of us who loved the trade gobbled up the accolades from the prospect mavens. Those who hated the trade watch helplessly as Juan Soto reveled in the Padres’ playoff run. A year later, it sure looks different. Soto is no 440 million dollar player. And while he may get paid – a lot – his 2023 Padres have underperformed and his own efforts have dropped his value considerably. The Padres would surely like to have him signed. Much as we may welcome San Diego underperformance and his continued defensive regression, and would like to say we “won” the trade, I’ll feel a lot more pain if he gets traded to any number of teams this winter, especially the Yankees, Braves, Dodgers, Cardinals or any of those franchises that seem to unfailingly absorb the best players at the right time for the better price.
Josh Bell bombed in San Diego and then, after signing lower dollar in Cleveland, there as well. Flipped to Miami, he has awakened at the plate and is key to a Marlin playoff push. He’s no Dominic Smith, but his Miami production would have kept the Nationals in a wild card hunt this year in a Stone Garrett-less world.
On the other hand, CJ Abrams has taken a quantum step forward overall with big leaps in his home run and stolen base production, frequent defensive highlights and growing into overall team leadership. He’s headed to a future in which we can say we got at least one star back in this trade.
Mackenzie Gore is shut down now, but has proven that he belongs in a big league starting rotation, and has flashed even better than that. He is a leader on the pitching staff, and his role in the 2024 rotation adds value to this team as a winner.
Robert Hassell, however, stalled in AA amidst reports of wrist injuries. The year is a write-off of sorts with experience gained, and Hassell’s 2024 season must show that the latter part of 2022 and most of 2024 was due to the wrist, and we will see whether he re-emerges or turns into Drew Vettleson.
James Wood started with a Wow and has been growing up in AA amidst older players. At only 20, he is showing off an elite power and speed and excellent defense while slowly upping his contact and pitch selectivity. We’ll see a lot of him up close next spring. And sooner? Part of the intrigue as mentsch tracht.
Jarlin Susana was babied in Fredericksburg and is still in training wheels. He’s young for his level, still, and while he did not bomb this year, I am among those who were irrationally exuberant last year. Pick your Luke Erickson-ism – his fastball was “straighter than John Wayne” when he came up to Fredericksburg, and when he came up for the 2022 playoffs, he was “lit up like a Kennedy at an open bar.” Whatever the case may be, he is clearly still under the hood and his prospect status dimmed in favor of other new flavors or those that actually go down without inducing bellyache.
Lots of unknowns but certainly, at least two starters from the trade and the prospect of more ahead. The best case scenario is still multiple stars in a future Nats lineup. The worst case scenario is too painful to contemplate. Gatt Lacht.
Inextricable from the Juan Soto trade outcome, however, is what it enabled. The emergence of Joey Meneses. No one more than Joey was responsible for making the 2022 and its intolerable bullpen and otherwise punchless lineup downright enjoyable. Joey was ours and, because he was a late bloomer, always going to be ours. His big home runs and hits in the clutch, and Meneses outplayed Soto over the rest of 2022 – even in the field, and we reminded ourselves of that every day.
Flash forward to 2023, and the future is not so certain. Joey is mostly at DH, which he understandably does not prefer. For most of the year, he hit but was in power outage mode. His slugging still lags last year’s output. But he is far more than a one-hit wonder, as he has all but paced the team in RBI and has truly been a steady reliable bat. Does he have another level to take his game to? Will he run out of time before the youth movement graduates? Whatever the case may be, Joey Meneses will always be known as part of the return for Soto and Bell, as if that return was not substantial enough.
Given Meneses’ short run in the outfield, one can also argue that Soto’s departure allowed the Nationals to plant flowers to see what would bloom. And bloom Garrett did, and quicker than ever anticipated, much as an expendable Lane Thomas became a Nationals star. The unexpected and cruel end to the Garrett season is, as well, a chance for fate. Will man’s plan for the big outfield bat, at least after the Harrisburg season ends shortly, be a Soto trade product?