If the Washington Nationals make Juan Soto available ahead of Major League Baseball's Aug. 2 trade deadline, where might he go?
To be sure, the word "if" is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Though ESPN's Buster Olney reported Wednesday that the Nats could be "compelled" or even "motivated" to move Soto, that's coming from "rival executives" and thus may be wishful thinking.
“Forget Soto trade...not happening," the right fielder's agent, Scott Boras, told Jon Heyman of the New York Post. A Nationals source agreed, telling Heyman the idea was "not funny."
But even if these remarks indicate that a Soto trade is highly unlikely, it's far from unthinkable.
Things have gone considerably south for the Nationals since Soto helped them win the World Series in 2019, with their winning percentage dwindling to .433 in 2020, to .401 in 2021 and to .333 in 2022. What general manager Mike Rizzo called a "reboot" last October clearly needs to be more like a rebuild.
Soto, meanwhile, said in February he rejected a 13-year, $350 million extension offer from the Nationals. If so, who can blame him? He's a 23-year-old with a .429 on-base percentage and 106 home runs through 503 games, which isn't counting his postseason heroics. Even considering he won't be a free agent until after 2024, his market value is more like $400 million. Heck, maybe even $500 million.
Ultimately, Soto is a super-duper-star who doesn't have a long-term commitment to a team that's not so much sinking fast as already sunk—and that could soon be on sale, to boot.
That's a hypothetical trade candidate if there ever was one, so we might as well indulge in some speculation on which teams could get involved in the Soto sweepstakes. Here are 10, ranked according to how well they fit him based on their contention timelines, needs and assets.
Speed Round: The Rays, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Twins
10. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays came into this season with B/R's No. 1 farm system, so they're a prime match for the Nationals in that regard. But as fun as it is to imagine Soto alongside fellow wunderkind Wander Franco, the $17.1 million that Soto is already making casts him as an awkward financial fit for the small-market Rays.
9. Miami Marlins
If the Nationals trade Soto, they would probably prefer not to move him within the National League East. But if anyone in the division could change their minds, it might be the Marlins. With so much young pitching already in place in the majors, they could offer Washington the prized arms belonging to Max Meyer and Edward Cabrera.
8. Boston Red Sox
Though the Red Sox are already being identified as a potential seller in response to their dismal start to the season, they've been better lately. If they get hot enough to potentially make a run similar to that of the 2019 Nationals, maybe they'll use some of their blue chips (i.e., Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer or Nick Yorke) to make a play for Soto.
7. Chicago White Sox
Because they could use a proper regular in right field and quite a bit more thump from the left side of the plate, the White Sox might be the best on-field fit for Soto. The catch? By our reckoning, the defending American League Central champions came into this season with not even one top-100 prospect.
6. Minnesota Twins
As told by MLB.com's Do-Hyoung Park in April, a fun fact about the Twins is that they made a run at signing Soto as an amateur free agent in 2015. Given that they're a first-place team with a top-10 farm system, the time may be right for another run at him. He would fit nicely alongside Byron Buxton and Max Kepler in the outfield.
The Top 5
5. New York Yankees
Let's flash back to Nov. 2021, when Jim Bowden of The Athletic wrote this about Soto's future: "I’ve heard that when he’s amassed six years of service time, he’s more likely to end up with the Dodgers or Yankees."
If anything, it's even easier now to imagine Soto ending up with the latter of those two clubs.
As they're off to one of the best starts in their history at 28-10, the Yankees have put themselves on a direct path to what would be their first World Series appearance since 2009. Now is no time for them to be pulling punches, so even super-prospects such as shortstop Anthony Volpe and outfielder Jasson Dominguez should arguably be trade bait.
There's also, of course, the appeal of matching the left-handed-hitting Soto with Yankee Stadium's short right field porch. A glance at the non-homer fly balls he's hit at Nationals Park over the years suggest said porch would help him:
Ah, but how would Soto fit in the Yankees lineup?
In a word, awkwardly. The thought of him batting alongside Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton is an exciting one, but those two and Joey Gallo already have the corner outfield spots secured. And while Gallo has largely slumped since arriving in New York last July, a guy with his credentials doesn't belong on the bench.
For any arrangement with Soto to work, the Yankees might first have to trade Gallo. They reportedly considered the possibility during spring training.
But if the Yankees are going to cash in their best prospects on the trade market, it should probably be for pitching depth and not gratuitous offensive firepower.
4. San Francisco Giants
Here's an idea that comes straight from Brandon Crawford's wife, Jalynne, who openly advocated for Soto to come to San Francisco on Twitter:
At 22-15, the Giants are following last year's 107-win shocker with a push for yet another NL West title. They notably rank second in scoring at 5.1 runs per game, which is impressive considering that not one of their regulars is playing at a superstar-caliber level.
Soto would obviously be that guy for the Giants, who indeed have the talent to parlay with the Nationals. San Francisco's farm system is one of the five best in baseball, with one of its headliners being exciting 20-year-old shortstop Marco Luciano.
But as fits go, this one isn't quite perfect.
Though Mike Yastrzemski could shift to center field to open up right field for Soto, he'd be yet another left-handed hitter for an everyday lineup that's already full of them. Rather than double-down on that side of the plate, the Giants might be better off scouring the trade market for a right-handed slugger who could bring proper balance to their offense.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
This one is straight from Olney, who wrote in his report that "front-office types" see the Blue Jays as one of the most likely teams to push for Soto if he were to become available.
On account of what was arguably the best offense in baseball, the Blue Jays looked like a potential World Series favorite at the outset of the year. Yet they've gotten off to just a 20-18 start largely because that very offense has been a major letdown. It's producing only 3.7 runs per game, half a run lower than the league average of 4.2 runs.
To their credit, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer are doing their best to carry Toronto's sluggish lineup. It should just be a matter of time before name-brand players Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman and Teoscar Hernandez pick up more slack.
Yet even if that happens, the Blue Jays offense will still have the same exhaust-port-like weakness that it had in 2021. It's gotten so little power from left-handed hitters that its 25 homers from that side of the plate are the fewest in baseball over the last two years.
Toronto's farm system isn't what it once was, but it still has at least one ultra-shiny chip in the person of 22-year-old catcher Gabriel Moreno. Presumably, he would have to be the headliner of any offer the Blue Jays might make to the Nationals.
2. San Diego Padres
This is another from Olney, who speculated that the Padres could entice the Nationals with an offer of shortstop C.J. Abrams and left-hander MacKenzie Gore in talks for Soto.
Well, no argument here. Nor, for that matter, do we have any arguments that Soto wouldn't be a good fit for the Padres.
They were a major disappointment in 2021, but not so much this year. They're off to a 24-14 start even without electrifying shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who's still recovering from a fractured left wrist. The notion of a healthy Tatis batting in tandem with NL MVP front-runner Manny Machado and Soto to boot is what the phrase "chef's kiss" is meant for.
What's more, the Padres do need a left-handed hitter of Soto's caliber. They're not getting much power (i.e., six total home runs) from lineup stalwarts Eric Hosmer and Jake Cronenworth, the former of whom is also seeing his good luck on batted balls finally dry up.
So, yeah. No notes, basically. San Diego is nearly as good a fit for Soto as there is.
At least to these eyes, though, the best fit for him is with the team that the Padres are chasing in the NL West.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
It was Bowden who originally said that Soto's most likely future involved ending up with either the Yankees or the Dodgers, so perhaps we're once again guilty of parroting.
And yet, why not the Dodgers for Soto?
At 25-12, they're once again leading the NL West and, by extension, in the running for their fourth World Series appearance in the last six years. But with both the Padres and Giants hot on their heels, the Dodgers' position isn't entirely secure.
If they were to add Soto, they would solidify an offense that could use solidification. Though the Dodgers lead MLB in scoring at 5.5 runs per game, left-handed hitters not named Freddie Freeman are letting them down. Each of Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Gavin Lux has a sub-.700 OPS.
Since Chris Taylor is capable of platooning with Lux at second base and otherwise moving around the diamond, the Dodgers could slot Soto into left field in deference to Gold Glove-winning right fielder Mookie Betts. It's not where he's playing right now for the Nationals, but Soto does have 300 games' worth of experience out there.
As far as what the Dodgers have to barter with, their fifth-ranked system is highlighted by 20-year-old catcher Diego Cartaya and 24-year-old right-hander Ryan Pepiot, the latter of whom has impressed with a 2.05 ERA and 36 strikeouts in six Triple-A starts.
So if the Dodgers decide they need Soto, they can and should go get him.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.