What do you mean Juan Soto is available on Major League Baseball's trade market?
Good question, so let's start there as we seek to answer all the burning queries surrounding the Washington Nationals' superstar right fielder.
A Soto trade was a long-shot speculative affair just two months ago—but not anymore. As Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Saturday, Washington "plans to entertain trade offers" for the 23-year-old after he rejected a contract extension that would have paid him $440 million over 15 years.
For his part, Soto was less than pleased with this development.
"A couple weeks ago, they were saying they will never trade me, and now all these things came out," he said ahead of Monday's Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, via Matthew Neschis of the New York Post. "It feels really uncomfortable. You don't know what to trust. But at the end of the day, it's out of my hands of what decision they make."
For what it's worth, though, it remains far from certain that this will lead to a trade.
Take it from Jon Heyman of the Post, who spoke to one rival executive who likened the situation to that of Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets. Though Durant differs from Soto in that he publicly wants out, the two players have at least one commonality: their trade value may be beyond what teams are able or willing to pay.
But before we get into that, let's back up a bit.
Have the Nationals Made Soto Their Best Offer?
Because Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reported that the club isn't planning to go beyond $440 million, at least "in the near future," it seems so, yes.
As Soto told Enrique Rojas of ESPN, before MLB began its 99-day lockout Dec. 2, Washington offered him a 13-year deal and $350 million, the latter of which would have landed Soto close to the two richest contracts on record:
- 1. RF Mookie Betts, LAD: 12 years, $365 million
- 2. CF Mike Trout, LAA: 10 years, $360 million
It's to the Nationals' credit that they upped their bid by nearly $100 million. Though the average annual value was "only" $29.3 million, Rosenthal noted that this pact was not watered down by deferrals.
Had Soto accepted, he would have forgone reaching free agency after 2024 and committed himself to Washington through his age-38 season. Basically, a National for life.
How Could He Turn Down a Deal Like That?
We don't want to put words in Soto's mouth, but something he said Saturday was telling:
Jesse Dougherty @dougherty_jesse
" ... And then I think once he knows that, then he’ll be ready to sit down and talk whenever they choose to talk.”<br><br>Feels very relevant today. <br><br>Juan Soto today: "I got the taste of [winning], so I want to win every year. I don’t want to keep losing. I hate losing."
Losing, of course, is something the Nationals have been doing a lot of lately. Since the franchise won its first World Series in 2019—a process that was very much aided by Soto's .927 OPS and five home runs in the postseason—it has the third-worst winning percentage in baseball. The rebuild that the club began last year is likely years away from being finished.
Moreover, it's reasonable to believe that Soto and his agent, Scott Boras, think they can do better than 15 years and $440 million, be it via an extension with a different team or a free-agent contract on the 2024-25 market.
Is He That Good, Though?
Yes. Next question.
No, Seriously. Is He Really That Good?
Yes, seriously. He's really that good.
Among his contemporaries, Soto is the only hitter in MLB with more than 2,000 plate appearances and an on-base percentage over .400 since 2018. Among his all-time peers, only Ted Williams also posted an OBP north of .425 with more than 100 home runs by his age-23 season.
Soto did come down to earth for a while there, as he had a .362 OBP and 14 homers in his first 72 games of 2022. Yet he then hit .411/.577/.786 with six blasts in 19 games leading up to the All-Star break, and he kept right on slugging to win the Home Run Derby on Monday.
Put another way, he remains the best hitter in baseball today and is on track to be an inner-circle Hall of Famer.
OK, Fine. But Is a Midseason Trade Even Feasible?
It'll come down to the price the Nats set and how willing they are to budge. If this speculation by Heyman is any indication, the former is going to be gigantic, and there won't be much room for the latter:
"Early unconfirmed speculation is that the Nats would request a team's top four prospects and/or young major leaguers and perhaps a willingness to take Patrick Corbin's bloated contract. With this kind of player, almost anything in the ask should be considered fair game."
Heyman added that it likely "won't be easy" for any team to meet those demands ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline. That tracks, and not just because Soto became available on such short notice.
In the pantheon of midseason trades, there really isn't one that offers a fitting precedent for a generational young superstar who has more than two years to go until free agency. Maybe the Mark Teixeira deal from 2007, but he wasn't as young, controllable or, frankly, anywhere near as good as Soto.
So You're Saying It's Going to Take a Hersch...
A Herschel Walker trade? Yes, precisely.
In fact, one general manager said exactly that to Jeff Passan of ESPN:
Jeff Passan @JeffPassan
Front offices are already having the conversations: What is it going to take to acquire Juan Soto in the wake of him turning down a 15-year, $440 million contract offer from the Nationals? And the answer is: The biggest trade package ever. “A Herschel Walker deal,” one GM said.
For anyone who wasn't around in 1989, suffice it to say that the Minnesota Vikings had to give up basically everything they had to get Walker from the Dallas Cowboys.
OK, Then. Which Teams Could Be Interested?
According to Heyman, the New York Mets and New York Yankees will be in on Soto. But as they share the National League East with the Nationals, the Mets will probably face an uphill battle to acquire him.
Speculatively, there's no shortage of clubs that could likewise make a run at Soto.
For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are big-market contenders who could hypothetically afford Soto's acquisition cost and a potential extension. At least on paper, ditto for the Boston Red Sox.
Concerning unusual suspects, the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners would offer compelling possible homes for Soto in the American League West. Also out west are the San Diego Padres, whom Heyman reported are an early favorite for Soto.
Care to Pitch a Trade Package?
Oof. That's a lot of pressure. Any way we can Bartleby our way out of this one?
Since B/R's Joel Reuter ranked their farm system as baseball's best as of May 30, let's use the Dodgers as an example. Assuming the Nationals would require L.A.'s four best prospects for Soto, the deal would involve catcher Diego Cartaya, right-hander Bobby Miller and infielders Michael Busch and Miguel Vargas.
If, however, Washington wanted to get at least one major leaguer back, the Dodgers could swap one of those prospects for 24-year-old right-hander Dustin May, who is due back from Tommy John surgery in August or September. He offers high-octane stuff, and his club control runs through 2025.
Yet even this offer might not be unbeatable. If, for example, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and tendered a package headlined by shortstops Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza and outfielder Jasson Dominguez, Soto might head to New York instead.
Is There Any Scenario in Which the Nationals Wouldn't Regret Trading Soto?
Though getting a historic haul would soften the blow, you have to figure that the Nationals would lament that trading Soto became a necessity in the first place.
Moreover, dealing him might complicate the Lerner family's plans to sell the franchise.
Those gears are already moving, and the price tag is expected to eclipse $2 billion. But as Heyman reported in June, the Lerners have previously been reluctant to make Soto available out of fear of having anything "hinder" the process of selling the team.
If a Soto trade happens and indeed proves to be a hindrance, the sting of losing him would be that much more painful for everyone involved.
What Else Would Change with a Soto Trade?
If he does get traded, he would transform whatever club he lands on. If a rebuilder, that team would have that much more hope for the future. If a contender, that team would get a huge boost to its playoff odds. If a World Series contender, heck, might as well just give 'em the Commissioner's Trophy.
Assuming the Nationals get what they want, there would also be a resetting of the bar for what constitutes a megatrade. We're talking as many as four top-100 prospects for one player, which would indeed be the baseball equivalent of a Walker trade.
Still another possibility is that Soto would take a page from Betts and immediately sign an extension with his new team. The deal would presumably be worth at least $440 million. Either way, the pinnacle for baseball contracts would suddenly be about $100 million higher than it is now.
Further, such things could conceivably influence young superstars who come after Soto.
Rather than take the Ronald Acuna Jr. or Fernando Tatis Jr. route of accepting the first nine-figure offer that comes across the table, they might hold out in case it becomes advantageous to follow Soto's example of waiting and refusing to settle.
So, You're Saying a Soto Trade Would Be a Big Deal?
That's putting it lightly.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.