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Juan to grow on: Phillies vs. Nationals series preview

The Phillies are scheduled to play four games against Juan Soto’s former team

MLB: JUL 07 Nationals at Phillies
We won’t see Juan Soto hitting any home runs at Citizens Bank Park this weekend
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One thing should be made clear: The Washington Nationals did not HAVE to trade Juan Soto. Some pundits have tried to defend the team by saying they were pessimistic about signing him to an extension, so it was best to get a massive return for him when his value was arguably at the highest.

But that raises the question as to why they felt they weren’t going to be able to retain him. The only possible excuse the Nats could have would be if Soto said to them, “I hate the city of Washington and want to leave as soon as possible.” But there is no indication that a dislike for the city itself was what prompted this divorce.

If he said, “I don’t like this franchise, and want to play for one that has more of a commitment to winning,” then the Nationals made their own bed. In recent years, they’ve allowed Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, and Trea Turner to leave either via free agency or trade. If you’ve watched that many All-Star players leave town - mostly because the team didn’t want to pay market value for them - then you might have doubts about how serious the team was about actually fielding a winning team.

The bottom line is that Soto is an ex-National because the team wasn’t willing to pay him as much as some other team assuredly will. The team can talk about the huge contract offer they made, but ultimately, Soto decided that he would probably receive a bigger offer elsewhere.

You can see the Nationals’ future salary commitments here. Yes, they still have to deal with those awful Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin contracts for a few more years, but that’s about all they have on the books. If the team owners feel they can’t afford to pay Juan Soto - a 23-year-old being favorably compared to Ted Williams - his market value, then they should find themselves a different business.

Actually, that might be the problem right there. The Lerners who currently own the team are looking to sell, and despite what the GM might say, there’s a decent probability that they didn’t want to scare off potential buyers - or more likely, lower the sale price - by having one of the biggest contracts in baseball on the books for the next ten-plus years.

As a Phillies fan, this is obviously good news. One of the best players in baseball is now out of the division, and while some of the talent the Nats received might eventually pay off, the team looks like it will continue to be a punching bag for a few seasons at least.

Washington Nationals

Record: 36-70 (Fifth place in National League East, 31.5 games back)

The last time they met

The Phillies hosted the Nationals in early July and won two out of three. They lost the middle game when Aaron Nola gave up a two-RBI single to Luis Garcia. This is a reminder that even though the Nats’ roster doesn’t look that impressive at the moment, on any given day, a good pitcher can be bested by a utility infielder who has been worth negative wins above replacement this season.

Since then?

The Nats have gone 6-15 since that series. And that was with Soto and Josh Bell!

Bye bye Bell

Unlike Soto, Bell is the type of player a rebuilding team should be looking to trade at the deadline. The Phillies won’t be sorry that he’s no longer on the Nats since he has an OPS of 1.114 and four home runs in eight games this season.

Who’d they get?

The majority of players the Nats received in the trade are minor leaguers and won’t make an impact in this series, but shortstop C.J. Abrams and first baseman Luke Voit are expected to play. Abrams is a top prospect who has had a shaky rookie season thus far, and you might remember Voit as the Yankee who led the American League with 22 home runs in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Before you get too excited, Voit has spent the past two seasons showing that 2020 was a fluke. He’s got an OPS of .733 and with 13 home runs on the year, he might not top his 2020 total. Not exactly the numbers you want out of a first baseman/designated hitter. He’s probably not all that pleased to be going from a contender to a rebuild.

And then there’s the Phillies

As far back as I can remember, when making in-season trades, the Phillies have always paid a higher price in prospects in order to save money. It didn’t matter which end of the trade they were on. If they were trading away a veteran, they’d get a lesser prospect haul in exchange for the other team picking up more of the veteran’s salary. If they were the team getting the veteran, then they’d pay more in prospects just to make sure they didn’t take on too much increased salary. (See both of their Hunter Pence trades for example.)

Thankfully, the days of being “penny foolish” when it comes to avoiding the luxury tax are over. (Or at least over for now.) The Phillies are paying Noah Syndergaard and David Robertson’s full remaining salary, which is likely why they didn’t have to give up any of their top three prospects in order to get them.

Thor: Panderock

The newest addition to the Phillies’ rotation will make his debut on Thursday night. I have no idea how he’s going to pitch for the Phillies, but he’s already established himself as an ace when it comes to pandering to the fans.

This is cute and all, but as Archie Bradley could tell you, pandering will only get you so much slack if you’re not playing well on the field.

Nobody should expect “Thor” to pitch like the phenom he was a few years ago. But if he can consistently pitch into the sixth inning and keep the team in games, that should be just fine.


Note: Due to a time crunch, I didn’t provide a trivia question for the Braves series.

Last series’ answer: Since 2016, the Pirates’ franchise leader in home runs is Josh Bell, now of the San Diego Padres! Jabbanatic44 was correct.

This series’ question: Since his debut on May 20, 2018, Juan Soto leads the Nationals franchise with 118 home runs. Who is second on that list?

Closing thought

Having seen the Phillies be both buyers and sellers at the trade deadline, I can say that it is much better when your team is a buyer. Let’s just hope that the new additions have bolstered the team to the point where they actually make it to the postseason.