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The San Diego Padres undoubtedly won the MLB trade deadline on paper, reshaping much of their roster by acquiring star closer Josh Hader, first baseman Josh Bell, utility man Brandon Drury, and the big prize, superstar outfield Juan Soto.
Soto came over from the Nationals with a remarkable reputation and nearly unprecedented success, drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer and MLB legend Ted Williams.
His career statistics read like a video game; a .289 batting average, .427 on-base percentage and .532 slugging percentage, a batting line 54% better than league average.
In the lockdown shortened 2020, Soto hit .351/.490/.695, reaching base nearly 50% of the time and accumulating 2.6 WAR in only 47 games, a pace that likely would have led to an MVP award had the season been of normal length.
Hader had been similarly dominant in his time as the Brewers closer, with Bell and Drury having career-best seasons before joining the Padres.
It wasn’t just one media outlet or journalist proclaiming they were the unquestioned champions of the deadline – it was nearly all of them.
A sampling of headlines shows how universal praise was for General Manager A.J. Preller’s deal-making prowess:
- The New York Post: “Padres big winner of MLB trade deadline after Juan Soto deal”
- CBS Sports: “MLB trade deadline winners and losers: Padres get Juan Soto”
- ESPN: “The biggest deadline deal ever? Are the Padres the NL’s new team to beat? What to make of blockbuster Juan Soto trade”
- Just Baseball: “The Padres Didn’t Just Win the Trade Deadline. They Demolished It.”
The Washington Post highlighted the Padres as having “changed their fate.”
SI was even more effusive in their praise: “Simply put, San Diego is much better today than it was yesterday. An offense that was previously just okay now looks fearsome. They have enough depth to make some noise in October. It’s certainly enough to make this team a whole lot more competitive down the stretch and into the playoffs. What a week for A.J. Preller.”
Just Baseball continued past the headline, saying the lineup was something out of a “fantasy team.”
So, uh, why haven’t they been better?
Since the trade deadline on Aug. 2, the Padres have gone 14-16, a worse record than even the lowly Chicago Cubs.
While they currently sit in a playoff spot, that’s been mostly due to the flailing Milwaukee Brewers, not their own success.
Their vaunted offense has been abysmal, the same lineup that Soto said pitchers would need “luck” to get through, has averaged just 4.26 runs per game, barely more than the moribund Cincinnati Reds.
Soto has continued to get on base, but his power has evaporated to the tune of just a .394 slugging percentage.
Bell has actually hurt the team, hitting just .183 with a -0.4 WAR to go along with his customary poor defense.
The same goes for Brandon Drury, whose been a below-average hitter during his time in San Diego, accumulating a -0.1 WAR.
That pales in comparison to Hader, who’s collapsed since the trade. He has a horrific 17.55 ERA and an awe-inspiring -0.3 WAR in 6.2 innings.
The non-Soto acquisitions then, have combined to cost the Padres -0.8 wins above replacement; actually hurting the team in exchange for huge numbers of San Diego prospects.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost out in the Soto sweepstakes, have the best record in the National League at 24-8. Their signature acquisition, the little mentioned Jordan Montgomery, has been outstanding, propelling them to a likely division title.
The Baltimore Orioles sold their closer and one of the team’s best hitters, Trey Mancini, yet have kept themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot with an 18-13 record since the deadline.
Yet the Padres, for all their hype and restructuring, haven’t been able to sustain any prolonged success.
The key takeaway here is that the media’s rush to judgment and their assumptions about what makes a great team are often wildly inaccurate.
There were reasons to doubt whether Bell and Drury would meaningfully improve the roster over Eric Hosmer and Luke Voit. While few would have expected Hader to blow up as he has, the Padres already had a relatively successful closer in Taylor Rogers.
Trading for Soto was always defensible, but as talented as he is, he’s not able to cover over the many other deficiencies on the roster.
The Padres will still likely make the postseason, and could even make a deep run if their key contributors start performing at the right time.
But they annihilated any depth in their farm system to chase success in 2022, and so far, it’s been remarkably elusive.
Oh, and just imagine how much worse it would have been if their $340 million shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. had been popped for using PEDs and suspended 80 games, tarnishing his reputation in the process.
That would really be disheartening.