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With hours to go before the 6 p.m. ET trade deadline, the San Diego Padres appear to be the front-runner in the Juan Soto sweepstakes.

Per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post, there is a “growing sense” around the league that the Padres will land the 23-year-old All-Star and perhaps get Josh Bell in the same package from the Washington Nationals.

Jesse Dougherty @dougherty_jesse

Was a late night for the Nationals’ front office, as expected, and I have also heard the field is narrowing in the Juan Soto sweepstakes.

Jon Heyman of the New York Post and MLB Network noted the Padres are “being aggressive” in their pursuit of Soto and Bell.

The Padres have already made one significant move that shows they are all-in trying to win in 2022. They acquired All-Star closer Josh Hader from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Taylor Rogers, Dinelson Lamet and prospects Robert Gasser and Esteury Ruiz on Monday.

Per Jim Bowden of CBS Sports HQ, the Padres’ offer to Washington for Soto and Bell includes C.J. Abrams, Robert Hassell III, Adrian Morejon and “at least” two other players.

Abrams, San Diego’s top prospect coming into this season, is off to a slow start in his first exposure to big-league pitching. The 21-year-old is hitting .232/.285/.320 in 46 games this season.

Hassell is the No. 21 overall prospect in baseball, per The 20-year-old was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft and has an .846 OPS in 75 games at High-A Ft. Wayne this season.

Morejon, 23, is working his way back from Tommy John surgery in April 2021. The left-hander has a 6.75 ERA in six relief appearances for the Padres this season.

There have been conflicting reports about who is potentially in the lead for Soto at this point in trade talks.

USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported Monday the Los Angeles Dodgers have been “much more aggressive” recently with their offers to the Nationals.

The St. Louis Cardinals were also mentioned by Nightengale as a strong suitor for Soto.

On a recent episode of ESPN Daily, Jeff Passan noted one unnamed team executive called Washington’s asking price for Soto “completely asinine and ridiculous.”

Pablo Torre @PabloTorre

“It’s completely asinine and ridiculous.” —Unnamed baseball executive, to @JeffPassan, about the current asking price for Juan Soto. ➡️ Full #ESPNDaily:

That was on July 26 and perhaps things have changed over the course of seven days, but there’s no reason for Washington not to seek the biggest possible return.

Soto has established himself as one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball. He is also incredibly valuable by virtue of having two additional years of team control beyond this season before he can become a free agent.

San Diego pursuing Bell is an added wrinkle to the negotiations. The 29-year-old is a first baseman who is only signed through this season. He’s having the best season of his career with a .307/.384/.493 slash line with 14 homers in 103 games.

The Padres were unsuccessful in their attempt to deal Eric Hosmer during the offseason.

The Athletic’s Dennis Lin, Ken Rosenthal and Andy McCullough reported in April a trade concept was discussed that would have sent Hosmer and Chris Paddack to the New York Mets for Dominic Smith.

The deal wound up not happening, but it is an indication that San Diego’s front office has been trying to upgrade the first-base position for some time.

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune recently said on XTRA 1360 (h/t Ben Fadden of Gaslamp Ball) that Hosmer has been told he won’t be traded.

Soto is the main focus with time winding down for contenders to make their final bid to upgrade their roster for the stretch run. The two-time All-Star is hitting .246/.408/.485 with 21 homers and 46 RBI in 101 games this season.

The Padres (58-46) currently trail the Dodgers by 12 games in the NL West but have a two-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies for the second wild-card spot.

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