Let the bidding begin
The Baseball Trading deadline is midnight-August 2nd so baseball teams are lining up to make potential offers for Washington Nationals super star Juan Soto, who still has two years after this one on his contract, befor ehe hits free agency.
Why the national media is fixated on an immeditate trade makes no sense.. Yes the franchise is for sale. Yes the Nationals are in the midst of a total rebuild job. Yes, Soto has already turned down a record (440M) extension from Washington. Yes, if you trade for him, then you have to deal with his agent Scott Boras, who is only interested in top dollars for his clients, and top average salary. Yes, you get the player, the agent, and the rest of the roster be damned because of what you paid for get the young slugger.
A close up look at who could be in the sweepstakes, courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.com website:
Padres: Nary a marquee trade candidate hits the market without president of baseball ops AJ Preller pushing to acquire said superstar. Preller’s Padres are “in” on everything, and with names like C.J. Abrams, MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III and more to dangle at the Nats — plus a glaring corner outfield need — the fit is too hard to ignore. I had the Friars in the “long shots” bucket while constructing much of this draft, but it’s just too on-brand for the Padres to find a creative way to dump Eric Hosmer and/or Wil Myers in order to bring in Soto while ducking just under the luxury-tax threshold. Frankly, bailing Preller out on either Hosmer or Myers would be a nice way for Rizzo to try to squeeze even more out of the Padres’ system.
It’s also fair to wonder whether Soto might be deemed such an exception that ownership just green-lights the move and pays the luxury tax for a second straight year. San Diego has plenty of luxury room in 2023 (at least for now), so ownership could reasonably feel confident that they’d be able to duck back under the line and avoid a three-year penalty.
Dodgers: For all their spending, the Dodgers only have $85MM on the books next year and $99MM in luxury commitments. No, the outfield isn’t a true “need” — at least not relative to the bullpen — but the Dodgers have the payroll and the perennially excellent farm system to be in on every opportunity like this. It’s how they landed Mookie Bettsfrom the Red Sox and how they came away from last year’s deadline with another pair of Nationals stars: Trea Turner and Max Scherzer.
Los Angeles placed a whopping seven prospects on Baseball America’s recently published midseason Top 100 list, so there’s no doubting they have the requisite talent to get it done. They also took on half of David Price’s deal to grease the wheels on the aforementioned Betts trade, and that commitment to Price is up at season’s end. If the Nats really want to attach Corbin to Soto, the Dodgers are positioned as well as anyone to make that work.
Yankees: The Yankees don’t know how much longer Judge will be patrolling their outfield after he, like Soto, rejected the team’s final extension offer. Acquiring Soto would almost certainly cost the Yankees top shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe and then some, but the notion of pairing Judge and Soto in the middle of the lineup — even if only for a few months — would soften that sting. Acquiring Soto would also give the Yankees something of a safety net should Judge find offers well beyond owner Hal Steinbrenner’s comfort level.
Of course, adding Soto would double as quite the sales pitch to keep Judge in the Bronx. It’s tough to imagine a team paying Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, Judge and Soto the type of annual salaries that quartet will command through 2027 — the final season of Stanton’s deal — but the Yankees are one of the few that could plausibly do so. Including Volpe in just about any scenario has understandably been a nonstarter for the Yanks, but they don’t have another prospect on his level, and it seems likely that at least one other club would offer a prospect of that caliber to pry Soto away.
Rangers: Texas didn’t sign Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray to then sit back and hope the rest of a competitive team would bubble up from the farm system. The Rangers are going to be aggressive again this winter — but why wait until then? The outfield at Globe Life Field is bleak beyond Adolis Garcia, whose own woeful OBP issues give the Rangers all the more need to add some steady walks and hits to the lineup. Seager and Semien are going to cost $55-60MM annually on their own, and adding Soto’s final two arb years (plus any potential extension seasons) would give them $80-90MM annually in commitments to just three players. That’s not ideal, but Texas just got a new park and has run $160-165MM payrolls in the past.
Blue Jays: Soto’s prodigious bat would be the perfect cure for a Blue Jays lineup that has surprisingly underwhelmed. Toronto’s lineup skews heavily to the right side of the plate, too, which makes Soto all the more appealing for general manager Ross Atkins and his staff. If there’s a “problem” for the Jays, it’s that their clear top prospect, Gabriel Moreno, shares a position with young Keibert Ruiz, whom the Nationals hope will be their own catcher of the future. Of course, Ruiz hasn’t fully established himself yet, and having a pair of uber-talented catchers would fall squarely into the “nice problem to have” bucket for Washington.
Toronto’s system has been thinned out by trades for Jose Berrios and Matt Chapman(among others), which leaves them with probably the thinnest system of the teams mentioned in this “best fits” section.
Mets: Nats fans would recoil at the idea of Soto ever donning a Mets uniform, and the front office probably doesn’t feel all that differently. However, the Steve Cohen-owned Mets have shown a willingness to outspend any and all parties when the opportunity to acquire elite talent presents itself, and while their system isn’t as deep as some other top fits, they do have a handful of high-end prospects who could conceivably lead a package for Soto.
SNY’s Andy Martino recently wrote that the Nationals are intrigued by names like Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty and Mark Vientos, though they’d likely seek even more talent beyond that trio. Acquiring Soto would put the Mets into the newly created fourth tier of luxury-tax penalization.
Mariners: President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto never met a blockbuster trade scenario he didn’t like. The Mariners have thinned out their once-vaunted farm through graduations and trades in recent years, but the likes of Noelvi Marte, George Kirbyand Matt Brash could form the compelling top end of an offer. Seattle has $67MM guaranteed to the 2023 roster, $66MM in 2024 and $49MM in 2025.
A Soto acquisition would be an incredible bow on top of a 14-game winning streak, and pairing him in the Seattle outfield alongside the burgeoning star he toppled in the Home Run Derby — Julio Rodriguez — would give the M’s one of baseball’s brightest one-two punches.
Red Sox: Would the same ownership group that balked at extending Betts turn around and give Soto over $100MM more than what Betts ultimately signed for in Los Angeles? Soto is younger, so perhaps the comfort with a mega-deal would be greater. The Sox also have plenty of high-end prospects to headline a deal (Marcelo Mayer, Brayan Bello, Triston Casas among them). They have $92MM on the 2023 books but will see that drop to $72MM once Xander Bogaerts opts out of his deal at season’s end. The contract status of Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers are already major talking points in Boston, and Soto would add a third source of hand-wringing to that list. This, however, has been a risk-averse ownership group and front office for several years now.
Cardinals: Jordan Walker is the type of headline prospect you’d expect to see in a return for Soto, and the Cards could add value by including a current outfielder (e.g. Dylan Carlson) and several other pitching prospects. The notion of Walker, Carlson, Matthew Liberatore and then some might not sit well with St. Louis fans, but the Cards have a solid crop of quality prospects to pique Washington’s interest. Plus, if they were to seriously entertain a Soto extension, the first season of that theoretical contract would dovetail with the expiration of Paul Goldschmidt’s contract, which will trim an annual $26MM salary off the books.
Giants: The Giants have spent at $200MM levels in the past, but they have just $92MM on the books for the 2023 season. That’ll drop by another $22.5MM if Carlos Rodonopts out of his contact as expected, and Anthony DeSclafani is the only player with a guaranteed contract on the books for 2024. It’s a near blank slate financially, which would afford the Giants among as much opportunity as any club to offer a potential long-term deal. San Francisco has a pair of prospects — Marco Luciano and Kyle Harrison— who ranked among the top 25 in BA’s recent update, while young catcher Joey Bartcould hold appeal as a secondary piece. San Francisco is likely to jockey with the Dodgers and Padres atop the NL West for the next few seasons, putting them in a firm win-now window.
It bears emphasizing that a Soto trade will be immeasurably complicated, even if the Nats are only parting with Soto in the deal. Add in an appealing reliever (e.g. Kyle Finnegan) or even more difficult, a contract like that of Corbin, and the deal is the type that requires overwhelming levels of effort to reach. The Aug. 2 trade deadline is all of two weeks away right now, and while it’s fair to imagine that Rizzo & Co. have had some preliminary talks already, the vast majority of the heavy lifting in any deal is unlikely to have been completed as of yet.
All of that is to say that while the Nats will be open to trades involving Soto, fans shouldn’t view a deal as inevitable. Waiting until the offseason wouldn’t radically reduce Soto’s value, and it’d open up the possibility of teams being able to include talent selected in this summer’s draft as part of the return, thus creating myriad new possibilities for the Nationals to ponder. By that point, there could also be further clarity regarding the potential sale of the team, and with a new owner would come the potential for a new valuation for Soto’s long-term value.
Soto will be one of the most hotly debated names in the game in the next 14 days, but a trade isn’t a given.