Trading Soto might be smart — and might be impossible
To anyone lamenting the mere notion that Juan Soto could be traded, here’s some solace that doesn’t eliminate the possibility but may be enough to get you through the day: Man, pulling off such a deal will be hard. Not impossible, but really, really hard.
When Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic broke the news Saturday that Soto had turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract offer from his Washington Nationals and those Nationals would therefore explore trading him, my realtime reaction was, “Man, that’s tough, but they have no choice.”
That’s still the case. If Soto seems intent on going to free agency (and he does), the responsible course of action here — indeed, the duty — is to see what a 23-year-old who is regarded by so many as the best hitter on the planet could bring in return.
But in the week that this story has engulfed baseball — Soto’s fate is the most riveting aspect as the second half begins for the Nationals on Friday night at Arizona — I have come to another conclusion: The list of potential roadblocks to such a sport-altering deal is both real and long.
Put another way: It’s a heck of a lot easier to keep Juan Soto than it is to trade him.
Now that’s not an endorsement of keeping him. Right now, Soto’s march to free agency feels inevitable. The Nationals’ position in last place — even with Soto in the lineup — feels secure.
There are so many needs on the majoleague roster and at the upper levels of the minors. Trades of Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Finnegan and Carl Edwards Jr. — and whoever else — won’t yield a single elite prospect. There’s no Matt Capps-for-Wilson Ramos gem likely in the next couple of weeks.
Soto, by himself, could yield the kinds of players who could develop into starters, even stars, to fill multiple holes. Single-handedly, none of them could replace Soto. Collectively, though, the right package could make the Nats more competitive more quickly.
So why not do it? There’s a difference between the desire and ability to make a trade.
Start with the idea of “the right package.” There is some consensus that, should he be traded this summer, Soto’s availability for not one, not two, but three postseasons would be worth a record haul.
But what such a record haul would look like is a matter of opinion. The number of prospects, the level of those prospects,
whether current major leaguers with little service time but lots of team control could be involved, on and on.
While baseball evaluations have to be the driving factor in any trade, the Nationals have to consider — at least in a secondary way — how the deal will resonate with their fan base.
General manager Mike Rizzo has a long-standing record of making solid trades and is nothing if not confident in his own moves.
Still, it’s not hard to see the Nationals — rightfully — setting a price for Soto that other teams deem unmatchable. The list of potential suitors is limited.
Any teams interested in trading for Soto would have to be poised for postseason runs this year and the next two, understand Soto most likely isn’t re-signing with them either and be able to pay Soto record sums in his remaining two years of arbitration.
There are so many good, solid baseball reasons to pursue a trade, but the hurdles are real and high. They exist in agreeing on what the right price would be, figuring out how to present such a gut-punch to a fan base already dealing with a rebuild and in convincing the owners they’re doing a service for whoever buys the team.
Maybe that’s not insurmountable. We will know in less than two weeks.