SAN DIEGO — Juan Soto arrived at Petco Park promising to bring “good vibes” to the San Diego Padres and issuing a warning to opposing teams.
Acquiring the 23-year-old generational talent in perhaps the biggest expiring contract ever has energized the Padres and their long-suffering fans, and there’s more to come.
Soto and Josh Bell joined a roster on Wednesday currently anchored by All-Star slugger Manny Machado. Star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is expected to return from a broken left wrist within weeks.
When that lineup hits the field, “It’s going to be really exciting. It’s going to be really tough to get through and I wish the rest of the pitchers good luck,” Soto said with a laugh during an introductory press conference.
Soto was second at bat and playing the right field against Colorado on Wednesday night, a day after being obtained from Washington in a massive trade. Machado was at third at bat and first baseman Bell, acquired with Soto, was cleaning up at bat.
Soto received a big ovation from Petco fans when he rushed into right field in the top of the first inning.
—MLB (@MLB) August 4, 2022
The price for Soto and Bell was significant: rookie left-hander MacKenzie Gore, first baseman/DH Luke Voit and prospects James Wood, CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III and Jarlin Susana.
Washington general manager Mike Rizzo set a steep price tag last month after reports emerged that Soto had rejected the team’s latest contract offer of $440 million over 15 years.
Uncertainty about his future began to weigh on Soto, who said after Sunday’s game against St. Louis, “I just want to get it over with and see what happens. Start over here or wherever I am.”
That spot is San Diego, where the Padres entered Wednesday holding the NL’s second wildcard spot while trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by 11½ games in the NL West.
Soto, one of the best young hitters in the game, said he was happy Bell was included in the trade. The two were flown to San Diego in a private jet on Tuesday evening.
“For me, I never realized I was going to be traded together. I was probably thinking for myself,” Soto said. “When I realized I was coming with Josh, we had a great relationship and I was more excited and more excited because he’s coming and I know what kind of guy he is and what he brings to the table. I’m beyond excited to share another clubhouse with him.”
Soto contributed to the Nationals’ first World Series title in 2019, then hit .351 in 2020 to win the NL batting title. He’s in his second straight All-Star season, and now he and Bell have joined a team whose playoff chances have jumped big.
Soto said all the conversations with Padres general manager AJ Preller and his new teammates were, “Win, let’s bring the good energy to the clubhouse and the stadium, come here and try to win. Try to bring my 2019 experience as a World Series champion here to San Diego.
“That’s what I’m going to do, that’s what’s been on my mind since I saw the trade yesterday. That’s what we’re going to try to do, try to get to the last team standing.”
Soto thinks he’s joining a World Series contender.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “This team has everything it needs to win a World Series.”
San Diego last played in the World Series in 1998, when it was swept by the New York Yankees.
Soto is under contract for two seasons beyond this year and said he thought of nothing after that.
“I only think about winning,” he said. “I just come to this clubhouse to bring the energy that I have, all the good vibes that I need to bring here, to win.”
Soto and Bell come from the team with the worst record in baseball to skipping playoff chances.
“It’s really nice,” Soto said. “It’s really exciting to be here. Just starting from a team that has no chance of coming this far, it’s a great feeling, a new atmosphere, it’s a new start for me . It’s a new beginning, a new feeling of going out there and giving more than I have.”
Said Bell: “Obviously we put our hearts and souls into this game no matter where we are. … But it’s a little more fuel in the fire to be here and to be on the hunt and to to have a reason to show up a little earlier each day to do the work that we need to do. I’m really excited to have a new opportunity here.
Soto and Tatis, who is also 23, have known each other since playing together in the Dominican Prospect League.
“He’s my boy, my hometown boy,” Tatis said on Tuesday. “I mean, we’ve played together since we were 15, 16. And now we’re in the same team. It’s crazy.”