Major League Baseball's Aug. 2 trade deadline is approaching, and there isn't a bigger name on the market than Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto.
The 23-year-old is fresh off winning the Home Run Derby crown, won the NL batting title in 2020 and already has one World Series ring.
Young players as accomplished as Soto simply don't become available often. However, the Nationals are at least entertaining the idea of moving him before the deadline.
At 31-63, Washington is in position to be a deadline seller. It also hasn't been able to lock up Soto to a long-term deal. He's under team control through the 2024 season, but he recently rejected a 15-year, $440 million offer, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.
Soto, who is batting .250 with 20 home runs in a down year, would be an asset on just about any club. The list of teams that would like to make a run at him is likely long. However, the timing isn't right for every team.
For starters, he isn't going to come cheaply. According to The Athletic's Jim Bowden, the Nationals and others around the league believe that Washington's return will be the "biggest haul in MLB history."
A handful of low-level prospects and aging veterans isn't going to get a deal done. From Bowden:
"They have made it clear they will make a trade only if it positively impacts their organization in both the long term and short term. In return for Soto, the Nationals want multiple major leaguers and top prospects but also to offload the bad contract of pitcher Patrick Corbin, according to sources."
Teams that have already gone all-in on a win-now approach aren't likely to have the required capital while still fielding a roster that can compete over the next few seasons. Soto doesn't make a whole lot of sense for basement-dwellers like the Cincinnati Reds or Oakland Athletics, either.
As he's shown this season with Washington, Soto is great but isn't enough to make an underwhelming squad competitive.
There is a sweet spot of teams for which a Soto trade would be logical—teams that appear to only be opening their contention windows.
The New York Mets, who lead the NL East after five straight playoff-less seasons, are right there at the top. Owner Steve Cohen has shown that he isn't afraid to spend—New York went out and got Max Scherzer on a massive three-year, $130 million deal. The Mets also have some intriguing potential trade chips.
These include All-Star utility man Jeff McNeil, Brett Baty and top prospect Francisco Alvarez.
Naturally, the Mets would have to keep enough key pieces in place, but adding Soto would cement them as perhaps the favorite in the National League.
The Cleveland Guardians aren't as close to contention as the Mets, but after missing the playoffs in 2021, they have jumped back into respectability this season. The Guardians are two games back in the AL Central and have a talented young roster poised to compete in the next couple of seasons.
As The Athletic's Zack Meisel pointed out, Cleveland also has a loaded farm system that could make for serious trade capital:
"The Guardians boast one of the best systems in baseball, with a league-high eight top-100 prospects, per MLB Pipeline’s latest update. And much of their well-regarded talent is in the upper levels of the minors, so the players have more concrete track records than, say, an intriguing-but-unproven 19-year-old at Low A. Perhaps that would appeal to Washington."
As Soto's agent, Scott Boras, pointed out, any trade wouldn't be about the 2022 season alone.
"It depends on if there's an owner out there that is all about winning," Boras told The Show: A NY Post Baseball Podcast (h/t Audacy Sports). "Remember, you get Juan Soto for one, two, three postseason runs and have complete control over him.
The fact that Soto could fully open a three-year window is exactly why rising teams like Cleveland and New York should be interested—you could also include the San Francisco Giants, who opened their playoff window last year.
The question is whether one of these teams will be willing to eventually make Soto the richest player in baseball. That outcome appears inevitable, and this is why traditional spenders like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers will continue to be linked to Soto—and may well end up with him.
This is a question only team ownership and management can answer, though they won't be obligated to make a decision in the immediate future. Soto could help chase a championship before then, and rising teams should be taking a hard look at that possibility over the next two weeks.
Where the proverbial window is cracked, Soto could help fling it open.