Column: San Diego gets another bolt of excitement with Padres’ addition of Juan Soto
In the now-demolished stadium where the San Diego Padres used to play, summer would turn to fall, the postseason would go on without the Padres, and the local football team would take over the field.
And the jingle would screech and echo throughout Jack Murphy Stadium: San Diego Super Chargers!
Five years after the Chargers moved to Los Angeles, San Diego finally has a team worthy of that jingle. The Padres have supercharged fan interest with a supercharged roster.
Pick your fighters. For the Dodgers: Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman. For the Padres: Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto.
Soto is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and the Padres agreed Tuesday to acquire him from the Washington Nationals. Tony Gwynn will forever be Mr. Padre, but statistically Soto gets on base more often, hits the ball out of the park more often, and exudes a similar joy.
In a 24-hour span, the Padres extended the contract of hometown hero Joe Musgrove, acquired All-Star closer Josh Hader and picked up Soto and Josh Bell — two of the top seven batters in the National League, as ranked by on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
The Chargers never have won the Super Bowl. The Padres never have won the World Series. This trade clinches nothing — the Padres are a dozen games behind the Dodgers, three games up on a wild-card spot — but it dares a city to dream.
In a short series, the Padres could start Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Mike Clevinger, with Sean Manaea and Blake Snell also available. Hader could close.
This is not the first time this season the Padres determined they needed an outfielder, a left-handed hitter. In March, they got Matt Beaty from the Dodgers for a Class-A pitcher named River Ryan. In August, they tore apart their farm system to get Soto.
And good for them. Soto is 23. Ryan is 23. The big-name pitching prospect the Nationals got Tuesday, MacKenzie Gore, is 23.
The Padres — the small-market Padres — rank fifth in the major leagues in attendance. For the first time since 2004 — the year Petco Park opened — the Padres could sell 3 million tickets.
They are giving their customers what they want to see. Imagine that.
And imagine this: The Baltimore Orioles, a team that has been tanking since before Soto made his major league debut, arrived on deadline day with a winning record, 2½ games out of a wild-card spot. On Tuesday, they traded All-Star closer Jorge Lopez for prospects. On Monday, they traded one of their best and most popular hitters, Trey Mancini, for prospects — the best of which is about to undergo Tommy John surgery.
Hey, fans: The Orioles are giving out a Camden Yards 30th anniversary T-shirt this Saturday!
Trades like the one the Padres made are not magical. The Padres planted the seeds in 2016, when they upgraded their minor league system by outspending every other team on international amateurs: $60 million in all.
The Padres could trade top prospects because they had them. The Dodgers have them.
In the 2010s, the Dodgers’ draft picks included Corey Seager, Walker Buehler and Cody Bellinger — and, in 2016 alone, Will Smith, Gavin Lux, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May.
In that same decade, the Angels’ most productive draft pick: Clevinger, who was traded as a prospect to Cleveland for a forgettable reliever, Vinnie Pestano. The pick most productive for the Angels, according to WAR: outfielder Kole Calhoun, and that was 12 years ago. The Angels have been all but invisible in the market for international amateurs.
The Angels could play the “choose your fighter” game, but they can’t win actual games. If everyone were healthy, they could put up Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon against Betts, Turner and Freeman, or Machado, Tatis and Soto.
The Angels could have traded Ohtani. They can say they are giving fans who they want to see, and they’re right. It is too easy to say they should rebuild by trading Ohtani. Their failures are organizational failures, and trading Ohtani for a handful of prospects would not have solved them.
In the meantime, there is a train station adjacent to Angel Stadium. If you want to see meaningful baseball this summer, park there and hop onto the Pacific Surfliner — to Union Station, where you can catch a free shuttle to Dodger Stadium, or to the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego, from where you can walk to Petco Park.
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