It’s hard to think of the last time a player like Juan Soto hit the trade market. Sure, there have been stars on the move in the past, like Mookie Betts or Nolan Arenado, but a player with an age and track record like the Washington Nationals slugger becomes available maybe once in a generation.
Soto remains only 23 years old, which is so young that 12 players in the recent MLB futures game were older than him. In five MLB seasons, he is a .292/.427/.540 hitter, which is basically unheard of among players his age since the days of Ted Williams. He already has a World Series ring, a batting title, two All-Star nods, two Silver Sluggers and, most recently, a Home Run Derby championship.
That’s the kind of player you want on your team until he’s nearing his 40s, which the Nationals tried to do by offering him a 15-year, $440 million deal, which would have been the biggest contract by total value in MLB history. When Soto and his agent Scott Boras rejected it, the Nationals were apparently pessimistic enough about their chances to retain him that they sounded the trade siren.
Soto hits free agency after the 2024 season, so any team that acquires him is getting at least 2 1/2 seasons of him. We’ve since heard the Nationals are looking for four or five “youngsters” (read: prospects or major leaguers with low service time), but are willing to wait if no team meets their price.
So now here we are. A 23-year-old player with an overwhelming chance at a Hall-of-Fame career is hitting the market. Every team in baseball should want Juan Soto, but only a few have the resources to pull it off.
What the Washington Nationals want for Juan Soto
To understand what a Soto trade is going to look like, you have to realize how the Nationals operate and what kind of situation they are in.
The Nationals, right now, are bad. Extremely bad. Despite having Soto and Josh Bell, another big bat on the trade market, they are an MLB-worst 33-65 and have scored the fewest runs in the National League. They are not only bad, they are the kind of bad that makes it basically impossible to be good next year, and maybe the year after that.
If Soto isn’t re-signing, the Nationals have little, if any, interest in a player that can’t offer them much beyond 2023 and 2024, unless that player can be flipped in turn. Those seasons will be about building up talent for the future.
So don’t think a player like Gleyber Torres is going to be much help. The Nationals don’t want players who will be hitting free agency around the same time as Soto, they want players that will be part of the next good Nationals team, which will likely be more than two years away. The only reason why they would take a player with fewer than three seasons of team control is the opportunity to flip him for even more prospects.
The Nationals’ philosophy when it comes to prospects is also important here. Simply put, they are “go big or go home.” They want the most-talented player available, which is theoretically what every team wants, but the Nationals are willing to ignore red flags if the player has light-tower power or a 99-mph fastball.
That’s reflected in their draft history under Mike Rizzo. They pretty much always go for the loudest talent available, no matter the injury, personality, swing-and-miss or command concerns. Sometimes it works out and you get Anthony Rendon (who fell to sixth overall in 2011 due to injuries) and sometimes you get Seth Romero (drafted 25th in 2017 despite some major character issues and who has been a general disaster).
That philosophy is also how the Nationals got this bad, as they’ve missed a lot more than they’ve hit in recent years. Have you heard much about Jackson Rutledge, Mason Denaburg, Romero or Carter Kieboom lately? Those are the Nationals top draft picks from 2016 to 2019.
A Juan Soto trade has 2 complicating factors
The big question when teams think about which prospects they’re putting on the table is whether they’re going to get 2 1/2 years of Juan Soto or 15 years of Juan Soto
The former is obviously going to bring back less in a trade than the latter, and there aren’t going to be a lot of teams with the financial resources to accomplish the latter. We already know Soto wants to get paid. He just turned down $440 million, and it seems reasonable to think he will eventually land at least $500 million, be it an extension or free agency.
Fortunately for the Nationals, Soto is hitting the trade market at a time when MLB’s richest teams all have fairly well-stocked farm systems, so those are the teams to watch here. If a team can get it communicated that Soto will accept their, say, 15-year, $555 million extension offer (that’s Mike Trout’s salary every year until Soto reaches the age when Trout next hits free agency), that team will theoretically be willing to offer more in a trade.
There’s also the matter of Patrick Corbin, who has the worst ERA in MLB among qualified pitchers this season and is owed a total of $59.8 million for 2023 and 2024. The Nationals probably want to get his contract off the books, and the best way to do that is to do what the Boston Red Sox did with David Price: attach him to their outgoing superstar for a slightly smaller return.
To summarize, the big-market clubs could be a little more willing to overpay for Soto’s 2 1/2 seasons and any team willing to take Corbin can make their offer a little smaller.
Here are the five teams with a realistic chance at doing this and some packages we could see working. All prospect rankings come from MLB Pipeline.
What the Los Angeles Dodgers could offer for Juan Soto
Dodgers get: Juan Soto, Patrick Corbin
Nationals get: C Diego Cartaya (Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect, No. 13 overall), RHP Bobby Miller (No. 2, No. 26 overall), OF Andy Pages (No. 4, No. 47 overall), INF Eddys Leonard (No. 8), LHP Maddux Bruns (No. 12)
Given the Dodgers’ record in trading for big-time players (Betts, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Manny Machado, Yu Darvish), it’s hard to not see them as the favorite to employ Soto next week, if the Nationals go through with this.
The perennial contenders have maybe the most consistent player development operation in MLB, allowing them to maintain an elite farm system while drafting in the 20s. That lets them make these trades, because they know there is always more talent coming.
The most awkward part is Cartaya’s position, as the Nationals already have a catcher of the future in Keibert Ruiz, acquired from the Dodgers in the Scherzer/Turner trade. But here’s the thing: It is basically impossible to have too many good catchers in your system. It is a position with a regular dearth of quality starters in MLB, so if the Nats get lucky and hit on both Cartaya and Ruiz, they can just trade one and get even more prospects back.
This trade also allows the Dodgers to keep Michael Busch, who could be starting at second base for them by the end of next year, and Miguel Vargas, who could do the same at third base. Gavin Lux could theoretically be in this deal, but that depends on how confident the Dodgers are in retaining Trea Turner (or finding another good shortstop) this offseason while also landing Soto.
If the Dodgers go the Lux route, you could swap him out for, say, Pages.
What the New York Yankees could offer for Juan Soto
Yankees get: Juan Soto, Patrick Corbin
Nationals get: SS Anthony Volpe (Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, No. 8 overall), OF Jasson Dominguez (No. 3, No. 39 overall), LHP Ken Waldichuk (No. 5, No. 72 overall), RHP Yoendrys Gomez (No. 8), INF Oswaldo Cabrera (No. 13)
This package strongly resembles the Dodgers’ offer, and not by accident. Both teams are currently atop their respective leagues, have enormous financial resources and have at least five players in MLB Pipeline’s top 100.
Volpe is one of the handful of players who works as a headliner, while Dominguez’s speed and power combination is exactly what the Nationals look for when it comes to talent (see: 2022 first-round pick Elijah Green). The rest of the players have similarly loud tools.
Like the Dodgers, the Yankees avoid giving up any major leaguers from their 66-31 team. Just imagine it: a Soto-Aaron Judge-Giancarlo Stanton outfield (and designated hitter, most likely). The only major concern here is if the Yankees are going to want to bring another outfielder with an approaching payday when they already have to worry about Judge.
As with the Dodgers and Lux, Torres really could work here too, in exchange for someone like Gomez.
What the New York Mets could offer for Juan Soto
Mets get: Juan Soto, Patrick Corbin
Nationals get: C Francisco Alvarez (Mets’ No. 1 prospect, No. 2 overall), 3B/OF Brett Baty (No. 2, No. 20 overall), SS Ronny Mauricio (No. 3, No. 52 overall), RHP Matt Allan (No. 6), RHP Joel Diaz (No. 10)
If this sounds steep, you shouldn’t be surprised.
Do you remember when the Red Sox traded a burgeoning star to a division rival? Of course, you don’t, the Babe Ruth trade was in 1920. That may be a tad hyperbolic, but it illustrates something important: the Nationals aren’t going to sign up their fans for potentially a decade-plus of Soto in a rival team’s uniforms unless they get a monster offer.
Which the Mets could do! New owner Steve Cohen has been doing his best Steinbrenner impression since taking over the team and this would be the ultimate power move.
The drawback is Alvarez holds the same positional concern as Cartaya, with even more urgency given that he’s currently at Triple-A (Cartaya is at High-A). The Nationals could massage that a bit thanks to the designated hitter, but it’s undeniably a complicating factor.
What the St. Louis Cardinals could offer for Juan Soto
Cardinals get: Juan Soto
Nationals get: OF Tyler O’Neill, INF Nolan Gorman (No. 33 overall entering this season), 3B Jordan Walker (Cardinals No. 1 prospect, No. 7 overall), LHP Matthew Liberatore (No. 2 prospect, No. 45 overall), RHP Alec Willis (No. 13)
Well, that’s one way to solve the Cardinals’ problem of having two top-tier third-base prospects (Gorman and Walker) blocked behind Nolan Arenado. Gorman can at least play second, though, so it wouldn’t actually be a problem for the Nationals if this happened.
Here’s our first team not going the Corbin route, and the Cardinals are paying for it with three big-time talents. Gorman and Liberatore have both already made their MLB debuts, while Walker is waiting in the wings at Double-A. The latter player would be a big get for the Nats thanks to his enormous power.
O’Neill is the rare established major leaguer who might actually work in a Soto trade, as a) Soto figures to be his direct replacement on the Cardinals and b) he offers a good reclamation opportunity for the Nationals. After finishing eighth in NL MVP voting last year, O’Neill is struggling at .239/.302/.362.
If the Nationals can help him find his form, O’Neill would be perfect for flipping this offseason or next year.
What the San Diego Padres could offer for Juan Soto
Padres get: Juan Soto
Nationals get: SS CJ Abrams (No. 9 overall entering this season), LHP Mackenzie Gore (No. 86 entering this season), OF Robert Hassell III (Padres No. prospect, No. 23 overall), OF James Wood (No. 4, No. 90 overall), RHP Reiss Knehr (No. 6)
If there is a general manager in baseball willing to do whatever it takes to land Juan Soto, it is A.J. Preller, and that’s why the Padres are here.
The Padres are still looking up at the Dodgers in the NL West standings and need a boost if they ever want to catch their rivals. Pairing Soto with a healthy Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado would certainly be a way to do it.
However, the Padres, not exactly MLB’s richest club, already have those two infielders under contract with a little more than $500 million remaining. Would they actually commit the financial resources to a Soto contract potentially bigger than their commitments to those two combined? And if not, are they really going to give up so much future value when they should be working under a long-term plan?
What’s also tough is the top-10 sheen has worn off Abrams, as he’s hit a less-than-robust .231/.280/.322 this season. A trade to the Nationals would certainly give him time to figure things out.