Soto, Bell and Nats left waiting to see what happens

Davey Martinez submitted a lineup card for Monday night’s game a little after 3 p.m. By that point, the Nationals manager already knew utility man Ehire Adrianza had been traded, with Ildemaro Vargas called up from Triple-A Rochester to take his roster spot. Everything else, as far as he knew, remained the status quo.

Not that Martinez wasn’t acutely aware of the possibility something else could change before first pitch at 7:05 p.m. Any of a number of his regular members from the lineup or bullpen could be dealt away at any moment, so he made sure to consult with bench coach Tim Bogar about all the potential fallback plans should something occur either before, or during, the game against the Mets.

“We’ll see what happens in the next 48 hours,” Martinez said. “But we do have to think about the what-ifs – which I try not to, until it happens – but we’ve got to be prepared.”

By night’s end, there was no need for all that prep work. The Nationals made no more deals on Trade Deadline Eve, withholding everything for the final day, it appears.

If they’re going to part with Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr., Steve Cishek or anybody else, they’re going to have to do it in a hurry, with the deadline approaching at 6 p.m. Eastern.

It’s a lot for Mike Rizzo to have on his plate at once, and it’s why it wasn’t unreasonable to wonder if the general manager would prefer to get at least a few trades done Monday to take at least some of the stress off Tuesday. But Rizzo has done this enough times over the years to know what he’s getting into, what he’s capable of and what he isn’t, and he’ll do what he needs to do in order to complete every transaction before the buzzer goes off.

Until then, Soto, Bell, Cruz and Co. remain members of the Nationals, even if they’re constantly wondering how long that will remain the case.

They all went through the usual motions Monday, taking batting practice in brand new T-shirts featuring the image of Victor Robles wearing a red clown nose in the dugout in Arizona last week, preparing for the game like they always do and then attempting to do some damage against former teammate and current Met Max Scherzer.

Soto and Bell had some success doing just that. After Soto drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the first, Bell ripped a double down the first base line, eventually ending up on third as Soto scored when right fielder Starling Marte threw the ball to an uncovered second base.

The best moment of the night (at least from the Nationals’ perspective) came in the bottom of the fourth, when Soto blasted a 96 mph fastball from Scherzer some 421 feet to center field for his 21st homer of the season, his 119th as a major leaguer, all of them while wearing a Nats uniform.

As Soto stood and admired the home run off a future Hall of Famer, the crowd of 29,034 roared with approval. Many of them stood and applauded when Soto drew two more walks later in the game, raising his on-base percentage to .529 to go along with a .640 slugging percentage over his last 29 games. As he stood in right field during an eighth-inning pitching change, some fans in the area began a “We Love Juan!” chant, and he acknowledged them.

It all had tinges of a farewell appearance, even though there’s still reason to believe it might not have been.

“It means a lot,” said Soto, who wound up going 1-for-1 with the homer, three walks, a stolen base and a runner thrown out at the plate. “It kind of feels weird, too, because nothing’s happened yet. We’re just still waiting. It’s kind of cool, but at the same time, it’s kind of weird, too.”

Rizzo’s asking price for a 23-year-old superstar who can’t become a free agent until after the 2024 season remains sky-high, according to sources familiar with it, so the onus remains on the Padres, Cardinals, Dodgers and perhaps someone else lurking out there to actually meet it before 6 p.m. If nobody does, Soto will still be in the lineup tonight to face Jacob deGrom in his injury-delayed 2022 debut.

“I feel good where I’m at,” he said. “I understand it’s a business, and they need to do whatever they need to do. I’m just another player, another employee here, like (Ryan Zimmerman) used to say. I’m just going to be here, give my 100 percent. Whatever happens, I’m going to be good with it.”

The odds of Bell batting behind Soto in the order again are not so great. Though he wasn’t moved Monday, the big slugger (who becomes a free agent this winter) is still expected to be dealt, even if one potential suitor (the Astros) seemingly was crossed off the list after acquiring another first baseman/designated hitter (Trey Mancini).

As for the rest, well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Logic suggests at least one or two others will be traded today, perhaps in a final-hours flurry of moves.

Fans won’t have a hard time understanding most of them. But if the biggest move of all is made, that’s going to be an awfully tough pill to swallow.

“It’s going to sting, don’t get me wrong,” Martinez said. “Having these guys around and building those relationships, when they go away, it’s tough. But I get to build new relationships with some younger players, and we’ll see where that takes us.

“It’s hard to say, but for me there’s always something else at the end of the road. You’re not going to give away these players and not get something in return. And we feel like this is what our future’s going to be, and it’s going to be really good for us. Those guys (in the front office) are working diligently up there to get those players, if we can get them.

“If not, we have arguably one of the best young players in the game. And I love the kid.”

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