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Alexander: At MLB Swap Meet 2022, Padres win the day

Maybe trade deadline day should be a national holiday, given the number of people who presumably spent much of Tuesday refreshing mlbtraderumors.com, checking their Twitter feeds and quite possibly putting a dent in worker productivity.

(Then again, it’s sort of liberating when such activity actually is work-related and boss-approved. I love my job.)

Anyway, given Tuesday’s events, Aug. 2 might someday actually be a civic holiday in San Diego.

The Padres removed any suspense early in the day when they closed a deal with the Washington Nationals for Juan Soto, the 23-year-old generational talent who might be the most significant player ever to be swapped at the deadline. (And yes, I do remember that the New York Mets sent Tom Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds in a deadline deal in 1977, when the cutoff was June 15. The Mets, who traded Seaver after negotiations over a contract extension broke down, received Doug Flynn, Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson and Dan Norman in return.)

History does sometimes repeat. Soto became instantly available after he turned down Washington’s offer of a 15-year, $440 million contract – wisely so, since it would be below market value now and outrageously so by the end of the deal. As it turns out, he was the centerpiece of a two-day spree by Padres general manager A.J. Preller that could make October a whole lot more interesting in Southern California, and maybe beyond.

If you want a preview of a potential playoff series, the Padres are at Dodger Stadium this weekend. They’ll have Soto. They’ll have Josh Bell, the other key piece in the Nats deal that sent six players to Washington, including four prospects who were first-round picks and the Padres’ Nos. 1, 2 and 5 prospects in Baseball America’s rankings.

Soto and Bell should make a batting order currently anchored by Manny Machado much more dangerous. The prospects going to D.C.? We’ll see.

The Padres will also bring with them Brandon Drury, who had 20 home runs and an .855 OPS in 92 games this year with the Reds and now will be actually playing for something.

They’ll have Josh Hader ready for the ninth inning, and if you think the Padres didn’t leap ahead of the Dodgers where the back end of the bullpen is concerned, you haven’t watched Craig Kimbrel’s struggles this season.

They’ll have Joe Musgrove, the hometown guy who just locked up a five-year, $100 million contract extension. He doesn’t figure to pitch in the Dodger series since his last start was Saturday, but the Padres currently have TBDs in their pitching listings from Wednesday on.

They won’t have Fernando Tatis Jr. yet, but that prospect is closer than ever. Tatis, who hasn’t played yet this year, faced live pitching for the first time Monday and is expected to go out on a rehab assignment later this week.

Trust me, from the San Diego perspective this is all about the Dodgers. And it is all about October.

Never mind that the Dodgers took a 12-game divisional lead over the Padres going into Tuesday’s games, or that the margin was 1½ games the afternoon of June 30, before the Dodgers won three of four from the Padres and launched a 23-5 stretch (along with San Diego’s 11-14 July) that has turned a race into a runaway.

It sounds crazy that a team 12 games behind at the start of August is thinking postseason, although stranger things have happened. But the return of the best-of-three wild-card round, which we first saw during Pandemic Baseball in 2020, has created possibilities and might have influenced a number of deals with the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners, among others, adding reinforcements with the wild-card series in mind.

And you can understand if long-standing San Diego fans find themselves needing some time to get used to this. Remember, when Preller became San Diego’s general manager in 2014, his first impulse was to go all-in with veterans that winter, acquiring Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Derek Norris and signing James Shields to a four-year, $73 million free agent contract just before spring training.

By June of 2015, with the team under .500, Bud Black was fired as manager and a tear-it-down-to-the-studs rebuild was underway. One of the byproducts was that when Shields was traded to the White Sox the following June, Tatis was the prospect that came to San Diego.

The rebuild took four seasons, and Padres fans were asked to be more patient than they could reasonably be expected to be, but look at the result: Little old San Diego began the 2022 season with the No. 6 payroll in baseball, $230.3 million for its 40-man roster – thanks in large part to the Machado and Tatis contracts – and have three more pennant races to worry about how much it will take to keep Soto.

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