Ranking the Best Fits For Juan Soto Amid Trade Rumors
As he's officially on the block ahead of Major League Baseball's Aug. 2 trade deadline, the best fit for Juan Soto is no longer with the Washington Nationals. That ship sailed when he rejected a contract offer worth $440 million over 15 years.
So, let's talk about where Soto does fit best.
The list of possibilities may be thinning, with Jon Heyman of the New York Post indicating on Thursday that the market for the 23-year-old superstar is down to four teams:
Jon Heyman @JonHeyman
While there’s no word the Yankees are officially out on Juan Soto it’s clear they aren’t currently at the forefront of those talks. So it makes sense they jumped on Andrew Benintendi. SD, STL, LAD and TEX, perhaps due to better prospect matches, seem more involved in Soto talks.
In addition to the New York Yankees, though, we see five other teams that conceivably still could leap to the front of the pack in the race for Soto. We've weighed how much sense these 10 clubs make for him based on a variety of key factors.
Namely, how Soto—who boasts a career .291/.426/.538 slash line and is under club control through 2024—would fit in their lineups and within their spending capacity, how they line up as a trading partner with the Nationals and where they are in their contention windows.
Without further delay, let's count 'em down.
10-9: The New York Teams Seem Like Long Shots
10. New York Mets
Record: 61-37, 1st in NL East
The Mets would benefit from having Soto as a slugging partner for Pete Alonso, who owns 26 of the 96 home runs that they've hit as a team. And given that they've been in first place for all but one day this season, their contention window is as open as it's been since the 2015 Mets went to the World Series.
But even if the Mets were willing to offer young catcher Francisco Alvarez, who rates as MLB.com's No. 1 prospect, the sheer unlikelihood of the Nationals dealing a generational superstar to a National League East rival underscores why talks between the two clubs haven't gotten far.
"They were intrigued, like any team should be, when they first got word of his availability," SNY's Andy Martino said on the latest episode of The Mets Pod. "They looked into it, and it just didn't pick up a lot of traction over that All-Star break week."
9. New York Yankees
Record: 67-33, 1st in AL East
Even though they've cooled with an 11-12 record in July, the Yankees are obviously no less of a win-now team than the Mets. And with three prospects within MLB.com's top 40, they also have the young talent to meet the demands that Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says the Nationals have for a Soto trade:
Ken Rosenthal @Ken_Rosenthal
As I said on <a href="https://twitter.com/FS1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FS1</a>, multiple clubs saying Nats’ ask for Soto is 4 to 5 top youngsters, combo of prospects and major leaguers with low service time. Ten days from deadline, Nats aren’t negotiating, one exec says. A team either shows willingness to meet price, or Nats move on.
But as Heyman said, the Yankees' acquisition of Benintendi does cloud their standing in the Soto sweepstakes. Benintendi is far from Soto's offensive equal, but his profile is similar to the extent that he's a left-handed-hitting corner outfielder.
As on person who spoke to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com put it, the Yankees are more of a "fallback" option for Soto at this point.
8-7: Guardians and Rays Have the Talent, but Maybe Not the Money
8. Cleveland Guardians
Record: 50-48, 2nd in AL Central
Are the Guardians really a fit for Soto? According to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, yes:
Most notably including right-hander Daniel Espino and outfielder George Valera, the Guardians have the kind of prospects the Nationals are looking for. Goodness knows they need his bat in their outfield, which has produced just a .325 OBP and 14 home runs.
The bigger issue here relates to money. Soto is already making $17.1 million, with two additional trips through arbitration that figure to pay him around $55 million. As of now, the Guardians' whole payroll only accounts for $67.8 million.
7. Tampa Bay Rays
Record: 53-46, 3rd in AL East
Per Verducci, the Rays are the other unlikely team in the mix for Soto. They generally need a middle-of-the-order hitter of his caliber, though his handedness would be a bonus. The .278 wOBA that they've gotten from the left side ranks 27th in the league.
Though the Rays arguably don't have any prospects on the same level as Espino or Valera, their prospect list doesn't speak for all of the young talent in the organization. For instance, righty Shane Baz and outfielder Josh Lowe are former top prospects who only recently lost their eligibility.
Once again, however, the financials complicate this fit. The $55 million that Soto could make over the next two years is about a third of what the Rays will be paying Wander Franco throughout the life of his franchise-record 11-year, $182 million contract.
6-5: The Mariners and Blue Jays Are Great Fits, but How Interested Are They?
6. Seattle Mariners
Record: 54-46, 2nd in AL West
Soto and Julio Rodriguez together? Well, that just sounds like plain fun. And like the Rays, the Mariners have a need for a capable left-handed hitter. Their .289 wOBA from the left side is better than Tampa Bay's, but still only 23rd-best in the league.
The financials? Psh. No problem. The Mariners are spending about $50 million under their established capacity right now, so they might even have a chance to do a trade-and-extend with Soto.
A bigger question here is whether the Mariners have the kind of talent that the Nationals are looking for, with another being whether they're even in the market for Soto at all. They seem more focused on pitching, with ESPN's Jeff Passan reporting that they're being particularly aggressive on Cincinnati Reds righty Luis Castillo.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Record: 55-44, 2nd in AL East
There's at least one member of the Toronto Blue Jays who wants Soto to come north of the border:
As excellent as Toronto's offense is in general, it does need a left-handed slugger to help balance things out. To wit, Soto has more home runs on his own (20) than the Jays have gotten out of all their left-handed hitters (13) throughout this season.
But while the Blue Jays have the prospects—looking at you, Gabriel Moreno—to barter with Washington, their payroll is already at a record-high. They also seem more focused on pitching, as they're reportedly right there with Seattle in the Castillo sweepstakes.
4. Texas Rangers
Record: 44-54, 3rd in AL West
Even before he labeled them as one of the four teams with the best shot for Soto on Thursday, Heyman had initially pegged them as a 10-1 favorite to land the slugger in a column for the Post on July 17.
"Texas showed it’s one of the big players when it spent a half of a billion dollars on the double-play combo of Corey Seager and Marcus Semien this winter," he wrote. "Could the Rangers go for another $500M?"
The Rangers are roughly $23 million short of their peak payroll from 2017, so there may indeed be flexibility for a mega-extension for Soto. Theirs is also one of MLB's five best farm systems as ranked by B/R's Joel Reuter, so the means to trade with the Nats are likewise there.
Regarding how Soto would fit on the Rangers, it's hard to think of a better solution for that hole they have out in left field. Their left fielders are in the red with minus-1.0 rWAR, tied for last in the majors with Atlanta.
The elephant in the room here is the Rangers' contention window. It's not exactly open right now. And if they were to trade for Soto, the sheer cost in terms of both prospects and money could threaten to hamstring any future efforts they make to add additional talent.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Record: 66-32, 1st in NL West
As they eye a trip to what would be their fourth World Series in the last six years, trading for Soto would surely be in the Los Angeles Dodgers' character.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has mostly focused on building a sustainable foundation for contention at Chavez Ravine, but the Manny Machado, Mookie Betts and Max Scherzer/Trea Turner trades prove that he's not so risk-averse as to avoid blockbusters.
Beyond that, the thought of Soto in the Dodgers lineup is downright scary. The Dodgers already lead the National League with 511 runs, in part because of their healthy advantage on the rest of the league in on-base percentage. They're at .336, with the next-closest teams being the Blue Jays at .331.
With catcher Diego Cartaya at the forefront of MLB's third-best farm system, the talent is there for the Dodgers to work with the Nationals. The same goes for the money for a possible Soto extension. The Dodgers' payroll is north of $260 million right now, but they have only four contracts guaranteed after 2023.
What gives us pause is that Soto looks more like a "nice-to-have" than a "must-have" for the Dodgers. What they really need is pitching, particularly in a bullpen where Craig Kimbrel has been shaky in his closing duties.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Record: 52-47, 2nd in NL Central
There's a report out from Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat that the St. Louis Cardinals have been working on a deal with the Nationals that would see them give up slugging infielder Nolan Gorman and take back Soto and fallen ace Patrick Corbin, who has two years and nearly $60 million remaining on his contract.
Not so fast, says Nats general manager Mike Rizzo. Specifically, he said during a weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan (h/t Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors) that he's "not going to dilute a return for any player by adding a bad contract."
This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for the Cardinals, however.
Gorman isn't their only talented young player in the majors, as that list also includes outfielders Dylan Carlson and Juan Yepez and right-hander Andre Pallante. They also have a solid farm system headlined by MLB.com's No. 6 talent, third baseman Jordan Walker.
If the Cardinals were to add Soto, he would share the lineup with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado through 2024. That's certainly the middle of a World Series-caliber lineup. And with Goldschmidt set to come off the books after '24, the Cardinals would have a path to a possible extension with Soto before free agency calls his number.
1. San Diego Padres
Record: 55-45, 2nd in NL West
There may be more than one team in the race for Soto, but the San Diego Padres sure seem to be the front-runner.
This was ESPN's Buster Olney on Thursday morning:
And MLB insider Hector Gomez on Thursday evening:
Héctor Gómez @hgomez27
SOURCE: The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Padres?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Padres</a> are in serious talks with the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Nationals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Nationals</a> for a Juan Soto trade for. Talks have intensified since last night.
Even with Fernando Tatis Jr. on the comeback trail from a fractured wrist, the Padres need Soto in their lineup in the worst way. They have just a .316 OBP and only 81 home runs as a team, with their outfield accounting for a .640 OPS that ranks 26th in the league.
The necessary elements for a trade also seem to be there. Outfielder Robert Hassell III is one of the best prospects in baseball, while shortstop C.J. Abrams and left-hander MacKenzie Gore (who's currently on the IL with elbow inflammation) were recently on that list. And while San Diego's payroll is maxed out right now, relief is coming after 2023.
As for the Padres' contention window, well, it's this simple: they're in the running for a World Series title that would be the franchise's first.