Monday, August 8, 2022

Juan Soto trade rumors: Ranking the other 29 MLB teams on their chances of landing Nationals star

News surfaced on Saturday that Nationals outfielder Juan Soto will be made available in trade talks after he rejected Washington’s latest extension offer — a 15-year pact worth $440 million. The Nationals are expected to ask for a ton in return for Soto, and rightly so; he is, after all, a 23-year-old who is already on a Hall of Fame track. Soto owns a career .293/.427/.540 (160 OPS+) slash line as well as 117 home runs and 21 Wins Above Replacement in more than 2,000 big-league plate appearances. 

He will not qualify for free agency until after the 2024 season, meaning that if a team acquires him this deadline they’ll have him in tow for three playoff runs.

Of course, the chances of the Nationals agreeing to a Soto trade ahead of the Aug. 2 deadline is anyone’s guess. It would seem unlikely that such a blockbuster could come together so quickly, but then, this is baseball and stranger things have happened.

So, which teams are best positioned to land Soto? Below, CBS Sports has ranked the 29 non-Nationals clubs with respect to their perceived chances of striking a deal.

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Juan Soto could be on the move soon, if not by the Aug. 2 trade deadline. USATSI

Tier 1: No pay, no play

29. Athletics

28. Marlins

27. Rays

26. Pirates

25. Guardians

24. Brewers

We’re writing off these six teams because of the financial component. Even if they didn’t attempt to extend Soto, they would have to pay his substantial arbitration prizes; that’s not these teams’ style. You can argue that the contending Rays, Guardians or Brewers should look into acquiring Soto for the stretch run, since flags fly forever and they’d have ample time to trade him and recoup prospects at a later date. We like the idea, but that kind of maneuvering almost never happens anymore, and we’re skeptical that it’ll start again with a deal of this expected magnitude. 

Tier 2: Rebuilders R’ Us

23. Royals

22. Reds

21. Diamondbacks

20. Orioles

19. Rockies

18. Tigers

While acknowledging that some of these six teams appear closer to rejoining the competitive ranks than others, we don’t think any of them are going to pose a serious threat to meet the Nationals’ asking price. It would be cooler if they did, though.

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Whereabouts might Soto be doing his shuffle next? USATSI

Tier 3: Something is missing

17. Cubs

16. Rangers

15. White Sox

14. Angels

13. Twins

12. Padres

For as fun (or frustrating) as it would be to see Soto in a lineup with the likes of Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, or Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., we’re putting a line through this group because we think that they fall short in either the financial or the prospect component. Of all the tiers so far, this is the first where we feel like a team from here could make an actual play — we’re getting warmer, in other words.

Tier 4: Rivals, not friends

11. Braves

10. Phillies

9. Mets

A question that will be asked of the Nationals is whether or not they’re willing to trade Soto within the division. If so, these teams should be moved into the top tier, with the Mets in particular standing out as one of the top potential landing spots for him; if not — and let’s face it, teams generally don’t want to trade their homegrown superstar to a rival they’ll see both at home and on the road constantly throughout the season — then this represents the ceiling for this group. Regardless of the answer, the Mets (and, specifically, Steve Cohen’s thick wallet) will likely serve as a useful bogeyman for Soto and his representation between now and whenever he puts pen to paper on a new contract. 

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Would the Nationals move Soto within the division? If so, these two could be teammates in the future. USATSI

Tier 5: Big-market contenders, but …

8. Astros

7. Blue Jays

6. Red Sox

Soto would make sense for any of these three teams — all competitive and based in major media markets — but we wonder if their front offices would be willing to commit to the contract terms he’d demand. The Astros and Red Sox are both generally managed by former Rays execs who have either traded or waved farewell to the likes of Mookie Betts, George Springer, and Carlos Correa in recent seasons in lieu of handing out massive extensions. (You can argue that Soto is on another level, but those players aren’t exactly chopped liver.) The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are led by former Guardians executives who have shown a willingness recently to hand out big contracts, but who presumably have eyes on extending their own collection of young stars, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Would they have enough money to do both, or the detachment to opt for Soto over them? We’re open to the possibility, but unsure.

Tier 6: The top five

5. Mariners

The Mariners make sense on paper. They have a good farm system. They have few long-term commitments. They have a hyperactive general manager who has every reason to push the pedal to the metal to end the sport’s longest playoff drought. Would Jerry Dipoto feel comfortable parting with several of his top prospects, led possibly by some combination of shortstop Noelvi Marte and pitchers George Kirby and Matt Brash? We don’t know, but he owes it to himself to think about it.

4. Giants

The Giants have authored dark-horse pursuits in the past for the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper. Top executive Farhan Zaidi also knows all about chasing down stars from his time as a member of the Dodgers front office. The Giants have little in the way of meaningful long-term commitments, and Soto would serve as a spiritual successor to Buster Posey as the face of the franchise. The catch is that Zaidi doesn’t have the kind of prospect war chest that some of his competitors do, meaning he might have to take back a bad contract, like Patrick Corbin’s, to make up for it.

3. Yankees

We are legally obligated to include the Yankees near the top of these lists because of their financial might and their history of taking advantage of these kinds of situations. Brian Cashman has even held onto prospects like Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza in recent years, giving him some legit youngsters to bandy about. The interesting wrinkle with the Yankees is that they have yet to resolve the Aaron Judge situation. The only way the Yankees fan base might be appeased if they let Judge walk after this season is if they have Soto either in hand or en route — and hey, there are a slew of legitimate baseball reasons to prefer a long-term commitment to him over Judge, including age, track record, and injury histories.

2. Dodgers

As with the Yankees, the Dodgers are always near the top of these lists. Andrew Friedman has shown in the past he’s willing to pony up for elite players, and Soto fits in that respect. Depending on how the Nationals evaluate some of the Dodgers’ top youngsters — Bobby Miller, Diego Cartaya, Andy Pages, and so on — Los Angeles would probably have to follow the blueprint we laid out in the Giants section by taking on a bad contract in addition to Soto. They did something similar when they obtained Mookie Betts from Boston, so that might not be a big deal to Friedman and company.

1. Cardinals

This is almost certain to age poorly, but yes, we think the Cardinals have the clearest path of any team to acquiring Soto. They’ve won out on Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in recent seasons, and have taken swings on Francisco Lindor, among others, demonstrating that they have the appetite and willingness to make a blockbuster addition. The Cardinals also have the ability to offer a package that includes some combination of Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn, Dylan Carlson, and Tyler O’Neill, among others. Additionally, they’ll have Goldschmidt’s contract coming off the books after the 2024 season … or right when Soto’s extension would crank up to cover his free-agent years. It’s possible Soto would prefer to play on a coast, but shy of that, Mike Rizzo should direct one of his first phone calls about Soto to the Cardinals.

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