Braves get better, but Padres close gap with Juan Soto

Outfielder Juan Soto was acquired at the trade deadline by the Padres, who figure to be formidable foes for the Braves in addition to the Dodgers and Mets. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Outfielder Juan Soto was acquired at the trade deadline by the Padres, who figure to be formidable foes for the Braves in addition to the Dodgers and Mets. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

There’s no way the Braves could match the package that the Padres offered to acquire Nationals superstar Juan Soto on Tuesday. The Braves no longer have the top-rated prospects necessary to pull it off. Anyway, it’s unlikely the team would want to do a deal like that. There’s risk in acquiring a player who can be a free agent after the 2024 season and will demand a record-breaking contract to stay in San Diego beyond that.

Still, the immediate impact of the Soto trade is that the Braves have another National League rival to contend with in their quest for a second consecutive pennant. As part of the deal, San Diego also got Josh Bell, a good hitter who’s having a great season. Before that, the Padres acquired elite closer Josh Hader from Milwaukee. Adding all that talent elevated the Padres from fringe World Series contenders to serious threats, according to oddsmakers.

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Before the trades, the Padres were getting 18-1 odds to win the World Series at most sportsbooks. That’s the seventh-shortest odds. After those deals, the Padres are 10-1 to win the Series. The Braves are 9-1, behind the Dodgers (3-1), Yankees (4-1), Astros (4-1) and Mets (7-1). The Padres are now 5-1 to win the pennant, same as the Braves and behind the Dodgers (2-1) and Mets (3-1).

The Braves got better before the deadline, too, though the moves were about improving depth rather than adding stars. Braves backers disappointed by the lack of major moves should remember that general manager Alex Anthopoulos made one before the season. He traded good prospects to acquire Matt Olson as Freddie Freeman’s replacement, and Olson is one reason why the Braves are near-locks to make the postseason.

The Braves acquired Raisel Iglesias from the Angels to serve as an effective right-hander behind closer Kensley Jansen. The Braves got Robbie Grossman, an outfielder who produces against left-handed pitchers. They added veteran right-hander Jake Odorizzi to provide needed insurance for their starting rotation. And Ehire Adrianza is back to be part of the second baseman corps until Ozzie Albies returns by September.

All the new players except Iglesias figure to be so-called rental players. The Angels signed Iglesias to a four-year, $58 million contract before this season. The Braves are on the hook for the rest. Odorizzi has a player option for 2023 that reportedly could be worth as much as $12.5 million with a $6.25 million buyout if Odorozzi hits certain performance benchmarks.

Anthopoulos sent away two major leaguers, relief pitchers Will Smith and Jesse Chavez. Smith was a postseason marvel for the Braves in 2022 but has struggled this season. Chavez also made some important contributions to the 2022 title run but Iglesias is a huge upgrade. To get Iglesias, Anthopoulos had to surrender one the organization’s top 10 prospects, left-hander Tucker Davidson. He got a chance to crack the rotation this season before being sent back to Triple-A Gwinnett in May.

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Those trades, and all others in MLB, were overshadowed by San Diego’s blockbuster deal for Soto. It’s possible the betting markets are overreacting, but I don’t think so. The Padres have lagged their rivals because they lack scoring punch. They rank 17th in MLB in runs scored, while the Dodgers, Mets, Braves, Phillies and Cardinals are in the top eight (all stats before Tuesday’s games).

Scoring runs won’t be an issue for San Diego for much longer. Shortstop Fernando Tatis (wrist) has yet to play this season, and he’s set to start a rehabilitation assignment soon. Once he rejoins the team, the Padres will boast a scary lineup with Soto, Tatis, Bell and Manny Machado.

Soto isn’t yet 24 years old and already he’s hitting at a Hall of Fame pace. He walks a lot, doesn’t strike out much and hits the ball hard.

Soto’s numbers are down this season by his standards, but he went on a tear during July. Now San Diego is set to benefit from his resurgence. FanGraphs projects that Soto will produce 2.6 Wins Above Replacement through the end of the season. That’s second highest in MLB behind Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. Judge is solid in the outfield, while Soto is below average, but FanGraphs predicts Soto will produce more offense than any other MLB player over the final two months.

Getting Bell as part of the deal is a boon for the Padres. He’s hitting .301 with a .384 on-base percentage. Hader has been a dominant closer since 2018 but wobbled lately for the Brewers. They decided to trade him with one additional year left on his contract in exchange for closer Taylor Rogers, whose contract expires after this season. Along with Rogers, Milwaukee also got reliever Dinelson Lamet and prospects Robert Gasser and Esteury Ruiz.

The Padres went all-in to acquire Soto. They essentially are banking on winning big within a two-year window. Soto is eligible to become a free agent after the 2024 season. He reportedly turned down a record $440 million contract offer from the Nationals. The Padres already committed $340 million to Tatis. Will they push their payroll well beyond the tax threshold by re-signing Soto and Bell?

The Padres parted with three prospects rated among the top 100 in MLB by Baseball America. The Braves didn’t have any prospects among the top 100 until shortstop Vaughn Grissom recently was added. They already have reaped many rewards from their farm system. One graduate, third baseman Austin Riley, just signed a franchise-record contract extension for $212 million over 10 years.

Riley is among the homegrown players who’ve helped the Braves become World Series champions. They are good enough to repeat that feat. But now they may have to go through the Padres and their superstar lineup in addition to the Dodgers (they added Joey Gallo) and Mets (they improved their lineup depth).