One of the TVs in the Dodgers’ clubhouse was tuned to MLB Network Friday afternoon when Juan Soto showed up. It was time for another segment to discuss Soto’s future.
“Where is he going?” asked a player looking up.
It’s an intriguing question that everyone in the industry began to ask themselves on July 16 when the amazing news broke: The Washington Nationals were open to trading Soto through the Aug. 2 deadline after he celebrated her 15th year declined a $440 million contract extension offer.
But it’s not the only mystery surrounding the development. In order for the Nationals to trade Soto, they must thoroughly scrutinize the market for a catch they could justify as appropriate to support a rebuild. That might be impossible.
Player awards are subjective, but they’re almost always story-driven. There are more examples to study and information to evaluate. They are the bumpers along Slick Lane. There is no precedent for Soto.
He is arguably the most valuable midseason asset available in modern Major League Baseball history. The outfield player is already considered one of the best batsmen – if not the top hitter – in the majors at just 23 years old. The historical comparisons in Soto’s age are generational. Mike Trout. Frank Robinson. Bryce Harper. Miguel Cabrera. Mickey coat. Hank Aaron. He had a .292 batting average with 118 homers and a .992 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 557 career games beginning Sunday. He shone in the Nationals championship run in 2019 — his first full season in the major leagues — and turned 21 during the World Series.
He’s a bilingual superstar who exudes charisma and confidence with a smile that has enough watts to light up Dodger Stadium. Soto multiplies his value and is only slated for free agency after the 2024 season. Or – as the majors time it – three pennant races from now on.
Los Angeles has hosted his latest prime-time exploits. Last Monday after his cross-country flight landed at 1:30am, Soto easily spent an hour answering questions about his hazy future. Hours later, he won the home run derby. The star shone. It will return Monday when the Dodgers and Nationals begin a three-game streak.
Clubs in the majors, on both coasts, in big and small markets and in between, want him. The San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, New York teams, Dodgers and more. The finals in October could decide where he ends up.
So what is Soto worth in a trade? The short answer is: probably more than anyone who has traded in recent memory.
“They want your top six prospects, basically,” said a major league official, who requested anonymity so he could speak freely on the matter. “That is the question. They are looking for a player with more than two years of control, arguably the best hitter in the game, [but] Basically, you must now be ready to retool your entire farm system.”
Defining a team’s best prospects is an imprecise science. Publication rankings offer an idea. For the Dodgers, the list could include six of those seven players: catcher Diego Cartaya, right-hander Bobby Miller, infielder Miguel Vargas, second baseman Michael Busch, right-hander Ryan Pepiot, outfielder Andy Pages, and right-hander Gavin Stone.
The price would go down if the Nationals insist on putting a bad deal on Soto, like the Boston Red Sox matched David Price to Mookie Betts, another superstar outfielder, in their February 2020 deal with the Dodgers. The Nationals’ most likely candidate in this scenario is Patrick Corbin, a left-hander with a 5.66 ERA over the past three seasons and nearly $60 million remaining on his deal over the next two years.
Other people in the industry felt a little differently about Soto when asked about this story. A scout predicted that a Dodgers package would include Cartaya, Pages, Pepiot, Dustin May and a “wild card, high-ceiling” prospect in the low minors. One agent estimated Soto would cost three elite prospects and two major leagues.
A front office official at another club said it would need three or four “elite-elite” prospects and another young major-league player with years of scrutiny left. A second front office member said Soto would cost at least two prospects from the top 100 minors, if not three, and two other “solid names” with no more than a year of major league service.
A third team official kept it simple.
“A lot,” he said. “Probably a big league capable guy and some top prospects.”
A club executive said the closest midseason comparison to the Soto Sweepstakes in recent history came in July 2007, when the Texas Rangers traded Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for five players.
Teixeira was 27 and a free agent after the next season. He has had an All-Star appearance, two Silver Slugger Awards, two Gold Glove Awards, a Rookie of the Year Award and a top 10 MVP spot on his resume. The Braves were looking for a power-hitting first baseman for a playoff push. Teixiera checked the box and hit .317 with 17 homers and a 1.020 on-base plus slugging percentage in 54 games for Atlanta.
The Braves still missed the playoffs. They traded him for the angels the next summer. None of the five players transferred from Rangers reached Teixeira’s level, but three – Elvis Andrus, Neftalí Feliz and Matt Harrison – became All-Stars and helped Rangers reach the World Series in 2010 and 2011.
A fourth, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, had a 12-year major league career. Fifth, pitcher Beau Jones was a first-round pick but never made the majors.
Betts and shortstop Francisco Lindor were stars in their prime, recently traded offseason, but they each had one season left before free agency. A comparable offseason trade involving a superstar who has been in power for more than a year in the past two decades is the Florida Marlins’ decision to trade Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers in December 2007.
Cabrera was traded for six players with starter Dontrelle Willis. He was a 24-year-old, four-time All-Star third baseman with a .313 batting average, .929 OPS and 138 homers in five seasons. Adding to that, he was two seasons away from achieving the free hand.
He then made eight other All-Star teams, won a Triple Crown, hit 3,000 hits and 500 homers, and led Detroit to a World Series appearance as a first baseman and designated hitter. He has amassed 50.2 bWAR in 15 seasons with the Tigers, cementing future induction into the Hall of Fame.
The six players who acquired the Marlins compiled a 24.2 bWAR after the trade. Best of the group was Andrew Miller, who failed as a starter before becoming an All-Star Reseller. They’re all out of baseball. Cabrera has one year left on an eight-year, $248 million contract.
“Historically, anyone who trades a Juan Soto has usually had to say, ‘How do I find a replacement for Juan Soto?'” said Scott Boras, who represented Teixeira in 2007 and is Soto’s agent. “And if that replacement comes in four pods and not one, and those pods are at different levels of the game, I don’t want to be the one who’s the advocate who has to explain the comparability.
“Because I think it would be an extremely difficult process to know that the person who received Juan would benefit immediately from an exceptional player in his prime.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo didn’t think he needed to make a statement even last month. Rizzo said in a June 1 radio interview the team would not trade Soto. That changed in mid-July. Soto, unbelievable, is available. The list of applicants is long. The cost will be high. How high is the question.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-07-25/juan-soto-trade-value-mlb-dodgers-nationals Juan Soto trade value: What would a team have to give up?