Juan Soto has the highest trade value in baseball, and he happens to play for a last-place team in financial trouble.
Washington Nationals OF Juan Soto is the best hitter in baseball. That superlative statement is normally up for debate, but not when the player in question earns Ted Williams comparisons. Soto has the perfect combination of contact, power, and patience, making him an annual contender for a slash line triple crown.
Soto also plays for a team stuck in last place potentially looking to sell on something much larger than a player: the franchise itself. The Lerner family, who currently owns the Nationals, is looking into the possibility of selling the franchise. Just three years after winning the World Series, the competitive and financial fortunes of the Nats have taken a nosedive.
This is a rare instance where an owner might actually be honest when saying he cannot afford a high payroll. The Lerners often include deferred money when signing superstars, and that money adds up quickly. They owe SP Max Scherzer $105M, SP Stephen Strasburg $255M, and SP Patrick Corbin has $30M deferred in the midst of his $140M contract. Scherzer now plays for a rival, Strasburg is hurt again, and Corbin is below replacement level.
Given the poor state of the franchise, GM Mike Rizzo would be justified in trading Soto. The phenom would bring back a cargo ship-load of talent, as well as some financial relief. Soto turned down a $350M extension this spring, and he will likely get over $500M in free agency. Except, Rizzo stated clearly Wednesday that he is “not trading Juan Soto”. Trading away baseball’s best hitter is tough for anyone to do, and Rizzo is more loyal to his players than most executives (see: Zimmerman, Ryan).
Nothing is set in stone, though, until the trade deadline passes. Rizzo will still listen to offers, and the price goes up given how unwilling he is to trade a generational talent. Very few teams have the high-end talent needed to acquire Soto. Let’s see who could theoretically pull it off.
New York Yankees
I think there might only be a maximum of five teams who realistically trade for Soto. You can probably guess the type: payroll flexibility and a deep farm system. The Yankees check off both of those boxes, and they would greatly benefit from adding Soto.
Fans are restless for the team to move on from OF Aaron Hicks, and this trade would be the opportunity. GM Brian Cashman can include 2B Gleyber Torres as the starting point and move LF Miguel Andujar back to the infield. He could also trade Andujar instead and deal an additional prospect.
Cashman said during the offseason he was not willing to trade his top two prospects to acquire 1B Matt Olson. That calculus now changes since Soto is in another tier. The Yankees will have to part with SS’s Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza if they want any shot.
They will also need to deal from their pitching depth to get this done. The Nats would probably want SP Deivi Garcia so he can step into the MLB rotation right away despite his struggles. If they really are drawing a hard line, they will demand top pitching prospect Luis Medina. SP’s Matt Sauer and Ken Waldichuk would be appealing options not on the 40-man roster.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Any time a superstar is even remotely available, the Dodgers are the favorite to land him. Within the last three seasons they have traded for RF Mookie Betts, traded for Scherzer and SS Trea Turner, resigned SP Clayton Kershaw, and signed 1B Freddie Freeman.
The Dodgers aren’t first on this list because, as crazy as it sounds, they don’t really need Soto. They already have an All-Star outfield of Betts, CF Cody Bellinger, and LF Chris Taylor. Betts is untouchable, LA would be selling low on Bellinger, and Washington wouldn’t want the 31-year-old Taylor.
The most likely path would be to trade 2B Gavin Lux and move Taylor back to the infield. Lux still has a lot of untapped potential, but he is a year older than Soto and nowhere near as polished. No other Dodger would really fit this trade.
Because of how great the Dodgers’ player development group is, the Nats would have many minor leaguers to choose from. They got then-top prospects C Keibert Ruiz and SP Josiah Gray from LA last year, and they could now double-dip at catcher. C Diego Cartaya is the Dodgers’ #1 prospect, and he is far enough away that Ruiz has time to prove himself behind the plate.
The Dodgers have three other Top 100 prospects, and they just might trade all of them. The positionless Michael Busch can fill in at DH once the Nats trade DH Nelson Cruz. OF Andy Pages can supplant CF Victor Robles in a couple years, and SP Bobby Miller will move quickly through the minors.
If PBO Andrew Friedman wants to keep one of them, he has plenty of other prospects. Instead of Miller, the Nats could opt for a mix of SP Landon Knack, SP Ryan Pepiot, and OF Jose Ramos. The Dodgers won’t miss them; they will just find and develop other guys.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox could pull off a trade for Juan Soto, but like the Dodgers, the question is whether they really want to. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom is building a sustainable prospect pipeline, and much of it would go down the drain with a deal here. The executives around him would need to convince Bloom that Soto is worth it.
He is, of course, and the Sox could really use him. The offense is playing much better lately, but they still need some serious upgrades, especially in the outfield. CF Jackie Bradley Jr. can’t hit anymore, and LF Alex Verdugo is sputtering so far. He can be the starting point after assuming the same role in the Betts trade.
If the Red Sox bite the bullet, they would be trading three players in the Top 50, two of whom Bloom picked in the first round. 1B Triston Casas could be called up any day now, while 2B Nick Yorke and SS Marcelo Mayer are exciting players at the lower levels.
Those three players should be enough, even for Soto. But if Rizzo really squeezes out his rival execs, then Brayan Bello is the pitcher to target. He is now in AAA after raising his stock more than perhaps any other minor leaguer so far in 2022.