Juan Soto Trade Not Guaranteed To Pay Off for Padres

The Major League Baseball trade deadline was still hours away from arriving and Juan Soto was still officially a member of the Washington Nationals when the verdict arrived late Tuesday morning: The San Diego Padres were the unquestioned winners.

While baseball fans everywhere marveled at the possibility of the Soto-Fernando Tatis Jr.-Manny Machado triumvirate at the top or middle of the Padres’ order, BetMGM dropped the Padres’ World Series odds from +1800 to +1000.

The odds have dipped even further over the last 24-plus hours to +900, leaving the Padres fifth among World Series favorites behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers (+350), New York Yankees (+350), Houston Astros (+450) and New York Mets (+900) and just ahead of the defending champion Atlanta Braves (+1200).

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The excitement would be understandable if the Padres “only” acquired Soto, the generational talent whose performance through age 23 has him being mentioned in the same breath as Frank Robinson, Henry Aaron and Mike Trout. But San Diego also shored up its bullpen by trading for three-time National League Reliever of the Year Josh Hader, further lengthened its lineup by obtaining Josh Bell (with Soto) and 20-homer hitter Brandon Drury from the Cincinnati Reds…and, oh yeah, signed All-Star starting pitcher Joe Musgrove to a five-year, $100 million extension.

So the Padres check all the boxes, in terms of both promise and production. But are they a real World Series contender — and are they even going to make the playoffs?

As hotly hyped as the Padres are, they entered today 11 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West — the largest gap between first- and second-place in the majors — and as the second wild card and fifth seed in the NL.

If the playoffs began today, the Padres would open with a best-of-three series at the fourth-seeded Braves. Such an arrangement offers more margin for error than the wild card game, but a poor series for Soto, Machado or Tatis — or two or three straight hiccups by a starting rotation that includes Musgrove as well as former All-Stars Yu Darvish and Blake Snell — would imperil San Diego’s World Series push just as it began.

In addition, the Padres are just 3 1/2 games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies, who are in a virtual tie for the third wild card and each of whom made multiple moves Tuesday. In the nine seasons of the two wild card era (discounting 2020, when the season was shortened due to 60 games and the playoffs expanded to 16 teams due to the pandemic), the playoff field remained unchanged after the trade deadline just four out of 18 times — in both leagues in 2013, in the AL in 2016 and in the NL in 2017.

Among those teams to end up on the outside looking in: The 2021 Padres, who were the second wild card as of the July 30 trade deadline but went 18-37 thereafter. This is a good time to offer the reminder that Tatis has yet to play this season while recovering from a wrist injury suffered in a motorcycle accident last winter.

And typically, the most active teams at the deadline aren’t the ones that end up hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of October. The Braves acquired four outfielders — Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Joc Pederson — as well as catcher Stephen Vogt last year, but they were under .500 at the deadline and their moves were overshadowed by the splashier ones made by the Dodgers (Max Scherzer and Trea Turner), Yankees (Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo) and Toronto Blue Jays (Jose Berrios).

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Three champions since the second wild card was added in 2012 — the 2013 Boston Red Sox (Jake Peavy), the 2014 San Francisco Giants (Peavy again) and the 2017 Astros (Francisco Liriano) — added just one player at the deadline. The 2019 Nationals added a trio of relievers, including Daniel Hudson, who got the final out of the World Series clincher. The 2018 Red Sox added pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and infielder Ian Kinsler. The Chicago Cubs acquired five players at the deadline when they ended a 108-year title drought in 2016, but Aroldis Chapman’s implosion in Game 7 of the World Series nearly cost them the championship. (To be fair, the final out of Game 7 was recorded by another trade deadline pickup, Mike Montgomery)

The Blue Jays and Mets each jump-started underachieving teams with a flurry of deadline moves in 2015 — Toronto traded for David Price, Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins while New York acquired four players, including Yoenis Cespedes — but the Royals, who picked up all-world utilityman Ben Zobrist and pitcher Johnny Cueto, vanquished those teams in the AL Championship Series and World Series, respectively.

In 2012, the Yankees picked up Ichiro Suzuki, the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez and the Los Angeles Angels traded for Zack Greinke, but the World Series was won by the Giants, who obtained eventual NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence.

All of which is to say: While the aggressiveness of general manager A.J. Preller paying off with the Padres — who have won just one World Series game since debuting in 1969 — winning a title behind a player born just after their most recent appearance in the Fall Classic would be a remarkable story for the franchise and the sport, watch out for the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins, who were the only team in very winnable division to do anything of note at the deadline.

Twins pitchers have struggled since pitching coach Wes Johnson departed to fill the same role at LSU, but Minnesota bolstered its bullpen with Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer and also added starting pitcher Tyler Mahle. 

It’s easier said than done building a pitcher staff with the idea its bullpen will win games in October, but the 2002 Angels and 2015 Royals won it all without a true ace. The Twins heading into October with five pitchers who have closing experience — Lopez and Fulmer in addition to Emilio Pagan, Jhoan Duran and Tyler Duffey, all of whom split the role in Minnesota earlier this season — would give them a chance to dramatically shorten games.

At BetMGM today, the Twins’ pennant-winning odds are +2000 (tied for fifth in the AL) while their World Series-winning odds are +4000, which is tied for 10th with the Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays. They’re a much longer shot than the Padres, but history suggests a no less intriguing one.

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