With a 42-year-old future Hall-of-Famer (Albert Pujols), a 21-year-old stud rookie (Julio Rodriguez), and a 2x reigning champ looking to tie Ken Griffey Jr. in the record books (Pete Alonso), the baseball media landscape was hardly going to be starved for a discussion following the conclusion of the 2022 MLB HR Derby. Whoever won – or lost! – there was going to be some angle to dig into.
But I bet there were a lotta folks who were happy it was Juan Soto who won.
The 23-year-old superstar — sometimes compared with straight faces to Ted Williams — recently declined a $440 million extension offer from the Washington Nationals, who are now open to trading him because of it. That’s a story a whole lot of people, understandably, want to talk about.
So naturally, ESPN’s Buster Olney asked Soto about the rumors as he carried his trophy off the field, though he didn’t get much out of him. Olney did briefly report, however, that rival executives believe Soto will be traded BEFORE the 2022 Trade Deadline on August 2, which was far from a certainty to this point — the thinking being that a wider suitor base in the coming offseason could net a better return.
Olney also reported the information on ESPN proper earlier in the day. Here’s the money quote, if you couldn’t watch/listen:
I spoke with general managers this morning who told me they believe that ‘Yes, he is going to be traded, unless he works out a deal in the next 15 days, before this year’s trade deadline.’
Now, those GMs don’t necessarily have to be correct, but given that the Nationals probably received a call from over half of them in the last 48 hours, a leak of the possible timeline is hardly difficult to imagine. So what does this mean?
Firstly, to dispense with the obvious: if a last-minute extension comes together, which seems unlikely but still possible, then obviously Soto goes off the market for every team, not just the Cubs.
But what about the trade side of things? How would this timeline impact any small chance of a Cubs pursuit?
Well for one, it would mean the Cubs’ chances of landing Soto – to the extent you thought it was ever a real possibility – just took a hit.
You could argue that for a player of the talent and age of Juan Soto, 23, the Cubs should be willing to part with whatever it takes to land him, even right now. Today. But logic tells us that contenders who could use him for THIS playoff run, in addition to his next two years of control, should be willing to pay so much more in trade.
And, indeed, only one of Olney’s list of likely landing spots doesn’t fit that obviously-in-contention-this-year model: the Padres, Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, Braves, and Rangers.
Let’s talk about that group.
The Rangers (41-49) have less than a 1% chance of making the postseason, so they are the outlier. They also just spent a TON of money on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien this offseason. Unless they’re gearing up for a sale, I really have a hard time imagining them taking on even more money (if the Nationals attach a bad contract, for example), let alone doing what it takes to extend Soto immediately thereafter (which certainly seems like a necessity for most teams* that try to trade for him). Olney cites the Scott Boras connection (who represents Seager, Semien, and their recent No. 3 overall pick Kumar Rocker, but … I don’t know. I don’t see that being the true difference-maker in a trade like this).
*Ken Rosenthal had a theory that a low-spending contender like the Rays could acquire Soto to use for this and next season before turning around and trading him before his final year of team control so they don’t have to be the ones to fork over $500M+. Conceivable, but a challenge to pull off, and still with some risk there that the situation changes for him in a year and a half (injury and/or stark decline).
The Padres, by contrast, do make a ton of sense for Juan Soto, and they’ve been included among the most likely landing spots – from every source – almost every time this comes up. They have the need for offense *right now*, they have ground to make up headed into the postseason, they’re clearly all-in with this team, they have a very aggressive president steering the ship, and they have the young talent to make a deal work. HOWEVER, they’ve repeated said they will not go over the first tier of the $230 million luxury tax … for which they have just $600K worth of clearance. And given that Soto is making $17.1M this year that would be mighty difficult to figure out (and that’s not even including the frequent rumors that Washington intends to attach Patrick Corbin’s pricey contract to any deal).
Perhaps the Padres finally do what it takes to shed the contracts of Eric Hosmer or Wil Myers or Blake Snell to make it work, but you have to wonder if they have the prospects/young talent to pull off BOTH deals. Maybe to pair Juan Soto with Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, though, you just make it work.
The Yankees and Dodgers make plenty of sense, in that they have the need, the requisite young talent, the competitiveness, and the financial resources to get something done. Those have to be the realistic front-runners at this point. Sigh.
The last bit of interesting intel from Olney is that the Mets and Braves “don’t believe that the Nationals will put Soto in play for their division rivals.” So maybe they won’t be involved, despite the desire and ability? Which is actually a pretty significant development on its own, even just in relation to this year’s Trade Deadline.
This is going to be a WILD two weeks. The Nationals have turned the baseball world on its head, and there will be no slowing of the Juan Soto rumors. I still hope the Cubs are at least making some phone calls, and, more realistically, I hope Soto isn’t traded before August 2.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.