The St. Louis Cardinals should not leave Nationals Park on Sunday without Juan Soto.
St. Louis has been rumored as one of the teams hot in pursuit of the Washington Nationals outfielder, who is the most coveted player ahead of the MLB trade deadline.
Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported on Friday that the Cardinals were one of four teams at the forefront of the Soto trade talks. San Diego, Texas and the Los Angeles Dodgers were the others.
Former MLB general manager Jim Bowden mentioned on Friday that the Soto discussions were down to four teams, but he did not mention which teams were still in the mix.
The recent reporting suggests the Nationals have vetted most of the viable trade options and come down to a list of teams that can provide what they need in return for the 23-year-old superstar.
St. Louis is not the typical trade-deadline big swinger, like the New York clubs, the Dodgers and Padres typically are, but it has enough in its trade chest to go after Soto without jeopardizing parts of its roster.
The Cardinals enter Saturday three games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central and as the final NL wild-card team. St. Louis is level on record with the Philadelphia Phillies at 53-47, and it is four games ahead of the San Francisco Giants.
St. Louis may be in the clear when it comes to earning a playoff berth, but contending for a World Series requires another step up in play, and that is where Soto comes into the picture.
A potential Soto deal would give the Cardinals the most dangerous middle-of-the-order trio in the majors. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are already on the roster.
St. Louis would likely have to give up Nolan Gorman, who was promoted to the big leagues this season, and one of its other top prospects, but the franchise can afford to make such a move.
Someone would be viewed as expendable in the Cardinals lineup if a Soto trade happens, and Gorman's young profile with years of control fits Washington's profile in terms of what it is looking for in return for its superstar.
The Cardinals have to give up Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar or another major-league player to satisfy Washington's trade demands, but that is something the franchise has proved it has been willing to do in the past.
Goldschmidt and Arenado were both acquired in trades, but the St. Louis front office needs to step up in terms of return to the other franchise in the deal. Goldschmidt and Arenado had expiring contract situations and were easier to move. Soto comes with years of team control and the potential to be re-signed to a long-term deal.
St. Louis needs to go after Soto so it can beat teams with its hitting to make up for any potential deficiencies on the mound. The Cardinals currently have Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz on the injured list.
One could argue that the pitching injuries would force the Cardinals on to the starting pitcher market. Frankie Montas is the best available option after Luis Castillo was traded to the Seattle Mariners on Friday night.
The Cardinals could counter that argument by saying they have Adam Wainwright and Miles Mikolas at the top of the rotation. Dakota Hudson is scheduled to come off the injured list to pitch on Saturday. That is a solid three-man rotation, and none of those starters have to go deep into games because of the electric arms in the bullpen, led by closer Ryan Helsley.
A potential Soto trade would allow the Cardinals to catch the Brewers, who have had some offensive shortcomings lately, and earn home-field advantage in at least one playoff series. St. Louis is 29-20 at home and just 24-27 on the road.
Gorman and top prospect Jordan Walker would likely be the headliners of the package in the Soto trade. Walker is a third baseman and does not have a clear path to the majors with Arenado at third and Tommy Edman playing shortstop and second base.
St. Louis could justify its trade package by saying that Walker was not going to get a fair path to the majors and that Gorman's at-bats would be limited by the lineup reconfiguration that would happen with Soto's arrival.
The Cardinals would have Edman, or Dylan Carlson, in the leadoff spot with Tyler O'Neill either batting in front, or behind, the Soto-Goldschmidt-Arenado trio. The ability of Edman and Carlson to get on base would force pitchers to throw to Soto instead of walking him. The potential to get the other stars on base would likely allow O'Neill to have more run-plating opportunities out of the No. 6 spot, if that is where the Cardinals position him.
St. Louis' lineup with Soto would rival any order in the majors, and the deal would still allow the franchise to make a minor deal for a lower-tier starting pitcher if need be.
There is a perfect package of major-league ready players that the Cardinals could put at the top of the trade. They would have to include a handful of other minor leaguers, but Washington could be satisfied with adding Gorman and Walker to its everyday lineup.
Then there is the extra motivation to win the World Series in Albert Pujols' final season. That should not be the driving factor for St. Louis to make the Soto trade, but it would be a nice affect of it if the Cardinals get the deal done before Monday's deadline.