How the Nats’ clubhouse felt after the Juan Soto deal

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Just after 3 p.m. Tuesday, the Washington Nationals opened up the area adjacent to their clubhouse, unleashing perhaps the largest crowd of reporters since Game 5 of the 2019 World Series. Earlier in the afternoon, two PR staff and the club’s security chief kept the hall clear. Their goal was to allow Juan Soto and Josh Bell a quiet exit from the stadium after Washington struck a blockbuster trade deal with the San Diego Padres. They wanted a dose of order amid hours of organizational chaos.

But once inside, everyone was greeted with laughter from the back of the classroom. Soto had replaced a large box in front of the outfield player’s old locker. Joey Meneses and Josh Palacios, two substitutes, welcomed new teammates. Goodbye became hello.

“Too late!” Victor Robles yelled, referring to Soto and Bell being on their way to San Diego. “They’re already gone!”

Juan Soto begins day one of the rest of his baseball life at Padres

In the hour before the trade was official, the Nationals clubhouse appeared to be filled with an invisible veil. There was laughter. There was frustration. There was more than enough gallows humor. One player said: “There is no return that is good enough. It’s Juan f—— Soto.” Another smiled and asked, “Am I going next? No… Nobody wants me.” And without Soto and Bell, who assumed much of Washington’s media stewardship, there was a quote hunt.

First, the group of cameras and notepads rushed to Alcides Escobar, a veteran shortstop who has made seven appearances since late June, two of which were as a pitcher in a blowout. Across the room, aides Andrés Machado wondered, “What on earth are you talking about with Esky?” Then, as that scrum broke, it found Meneses, a 30-year-old first baseman who would go on to make his major league debut hit a homer against the New York Mets.

Meneses got the call after spending 12 years in the minors. He arrived on a morning flight from Columbus, Ohio, and his bat bag still had luggage tags attached. He popped questions about where Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon used to dress for games. Down the row Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin still have stands. But in less than three years, most of the titular team members will be elsewhere. Escobar, meanwhile, was released by the Nationals after a 9-5 loss to the Mets on Wednesday. His departure makes way for first baseman Luke Voit, one of the players brought on to join Soto and Bell.

“It all feels so crazy,” said catcher Tres Barrera in the tunnel between the clubhouse and the shelter. “I’ve known Juan since he was 17. He was a kid trying to figure it out here. When we were in Hagerstown, before he was fluent in English, we went to Chipotle’s and I helped him order. Then we talked in English so he could learn more. it was cool you know

Barrera fell silent a little and stared at the rubber floor.

“I don’t know,” he continued. “That’s just weird, man.”

Side calls on Tuesday made one thing very clear: This is a clear case of a front office and clubhouse having misaligned goals. The players and coaches try to win the games in front of them. The front office deteriorated with Soto and Bell trading for shortstop CJ Abrams, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore, Voit and right-handed pitcher Jarlin Susana — three of whom have yet to make the majors already sad present for the chance of a better future.

A look at the players the Nationals are getting in the Juan Soto trade

This is a breakup. Soto and Bell are now in the middle of a pennant race. The Nationals roster consists of zero left-handed assists and arguably three batsmen-designated. Meanwhile, Abrams joins the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, Hassell joins the High Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, and Wood joins the Low Class A Fredericksburg Nationals. Gore will join the Nationals in Philadelphia on Thursday but is on the 15-day injury list with elbow inflammation. Whenever Voit activates, he immediately leads the team with 13 homers.

As Tuesday’s deadline neared, a handful of players were unsure of their fate. Assistant Carl Edwards Jr. walked in from the coach’s room and glanced at his phone. Then he put it to his side, lifted it, put it to his side, lifted it and looked again. Kyle Finnegan was asked if he was jittery and shrugged. Ultimately, neither Edwards nor Finnegan was dealt – nor anyone else. But before they knew it, and with Soto and Bell’s departures, aide Sean Doolittle admitted “the mood is going to be weird.”

“Look while you’re standing here, they’re showing it on the TV behind us on ESPN right now,” Doolittle said, nodding to Soto’s trading analysis on the TV outside his locker. “It’s very surreal. In this game you always know there are opportunities for trades and moves like that and you never really get used to it. Although there was a chance for it, it seemed in the last month or so, it still feels a bit shocking and confusing.

“I don’t know how I feel about it.”

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