How the San Diego Padres’ Unconventional Blueprint Caught Juan Soto, Trade Deadline’s Biggest Fish

IN AUGUST. 1, the San Diego Padres were 58-46. They had the fifth-best record in the National League, but were 12 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team they’ve been trying to catch for decades.

Meet the Padres – a franchise with only rare streaks of success scattered throughout its 54-year history, a franchise best known for its questionable decision-making (those hideous mustard-yellow 1970s uniforms once write Matt Bush on Justin Verlander) only to win. This is a franchise that was 18 games above .500 last August, to end the season with a losing record.

And yet, on August 1, the Padres made the first of the trades that would send shockwaves throughout baseball. The deal that day was to acquire closest All-Star Josh Hader. The next day, the team finalized the blockbuster swap to end all blockbusters, bringing Juan Soto and Josh Bell to San Diego, along with a deal for utility Brandon Drury.

Suddenly, the Padres are better positioned than ever to win a World Series, or at least have their best opportunity since the Yankees swept them in the 1998 Fall Classic. They can field a formidable quartet of Soto, Bell, Manny Machado and, when he soon returns to the roster, Fernando Tatis Jr.

“It’s going to be really tough to get through,” Soto said during his introductory press conference on Wednesday. “I wish good luck to all the pitchers.”

No, the Padres are unlikely to catch the Dodgers in National League West this season. The Dodgers are too far ahead and too good to fall apart. But suddenly, Los Angeles’ road to the World Series could go through San Diego – or vice versa. The two teams begin a three-game series Friday night at Dodger Stadium for the first of 12 games remaining, and then, as currently positioned, the Padres would meet the Dodgers in the Division Series if San Diego gets the best of – three in the first round, likely against the NL East runner-up.

“It’s an exciting time,” Bell said. “Now is the time for the Padres, so let’s go.”

How the fathers come here? At a time when young, homegrown and – the operative word here – inexpensive players are valued more than ever by front offices, the Padres went in the opposite direction, emptying a farm system for proven stars – into the case of Soto and a few others, verified superstars, actually.

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