Recent reports out of San Diego suggest that the Padres will be looking to get payroll down this offseason, perhaps as low as $200 million. While that doesn’t mean they HAVE TO trade star outfielder Juan Soto, who is entering his final year of arbitration at probably something like $30 million, it does seem the most likely fit.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan offered his thoughts on the situation on the Baseball is Dead podcast, and he landed in the same place.
Here’s a quick paraphrase of his comments, which come at around the 51:30 mark:
They could theoretically get down to $200 million without trading Soto …. I think they’re going to move Soto. I’m not positive about that. (But) I think when it’s all said and done, is this a championship team next year with Soto? With that rotation? No. It’s not. So you have to cash in as much as you can, because you are stuck with Machado and Bogaerts into their 40s for hundreds of millions. You have Tatis for 300+ million still. These are unmovable contracts. So yeah you do have to move Soto …. Who should be in? Everyone.
Passan was not reporting anything at this stage, but his speculation is always informed by background knowledge. Plus, it just makes sense. If the Padres need to pare payroll, and if what they had in place was not working, then they can acquire a massive amount of young talent by dealing Soto now, and also take care of payroll for a year.
As I see it, the most logical suitors for Soto are going to be teams that check all of the following boxes (with Cubs checking in parentheses):
The suitors won’t necessarily HAVE TO check all of those boxes to be involved in Soto talks – he’s such a uniquely valuable player that some teams might stretch – but I just think that’s what the most likely group will look like.
I do think the Cubs fall into that group, but they’d be far from alone. I could pretty easily come up with a quick list of 10 teams that check all or most of those boxes, and it might come down to a preferred prospect fit for the Padres or simply the most sizable trade package.
In other words, it could wind up the case that, because Soto is such a one-off, and because the market is so limited in quality bats, that the trade bidding reaches levels we would otherwise not anticipate for just one year of a star player on a $30+ million deal.
That is to say, even though we have two fantastic comps in recent years for a trade valuation – Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor – I’m not so sure a Soto return wouldn’t top both. The returns in those trades were pretty similar (each of which included a big league pitcher in the deal, too (David Price plus a lot of cash for the Red Sox, Carlos Carrasco for the Mets)): one decent pre-arb big league player, one clear top-100 prospect (but not necessarily top-30), and one or two additional good organizational prospects. The price tag on Soto might start there and keep climbing.
And you’re going to have to do it not knowing FOR SURE that you can extend him. Obviously both the Dodgers and Mets pulled off extensions following their trades, but they also paid something pretty much like free agent market price to get it done. So you have to be ready to offer, what, $400+ million to Soto if you’re going to make this trade?
It’s a ton of talent and money to give up for Soto, but again, he’s only just turning 25, and is consistently one of the best hitters in the game. He is a transformative presence in any lineup.