Since the off-season began, there has been speculation over whether or not the San Diego Padres will end up trading Juan Soto, and if they do, which teams would be the most interested.
The Padres are looking to trim payroll to about $200 million for the upcoming season, and with Soto estimated to make $33 million in his final year of arbitration, moving him could go a long way towards achieving that goal. The team’s payroll currently sits at a projected $198 million with Soto. But the Padres also have to replace key free agents Josh Hader and Blake Snell.
The Padres could always sign Soto to an extension instead of trading him away and attempt to trim payroll elsewhere. Soto was the best hitter on the team and a top-10 hitter across all of baseball in 2023. He’s a valuable asset as either a building block or a trade piece.
Today, let’s look at three teams that are interested in Soto and what kind of a trade package they would have to put together to make a deal happen.
New York Yankees make sense for Juan Soto
The Yankees don’t have a ton of payroll flexibility at the moment, with a projected payroll of $242 million before they’ve made a single move this winter. That said, they could use a left-handed bat in their lineup and Soto is one of the best.
The tricky part with any trade involving Soto will be the money involved. Will the acquiring team be taking on all of Soto’s contract for 2023? Will San Diego pay down his projected $33 million a bit to get a better return? Would they even take on a contract from the acquiring team in order to get a better return? These are all different forms of the trade that need to be considered.
With Yankees GM Brian Cashman saying slugger Giancarlo Stanton is “going to wind up getting hurt again more likely than not because it seems to be part of his game,” it would seem that New York could be shopping the 34-year-old this off-season. Stanton is set to make $118 million over the next four seasons and also has a club option at $25 million for the 2028 season.
San Diego could be intrigued by adding a masher to the lineup, but it would also take some other prospects, too. It wouldn’t be a salary for salary swap with Soto still just 25 years old and the Padres would be taking on more of the financial burden.
If Stanton were to be involved, the package would have to include one of New York’s better prospects, but perhaps not the top of the pack. Valuations on these deals can be tricky. Could San Diego be satisfied with Stanton, #5 prospect Drew Thorpe, and take a flier on someone like #28 prospect Edgar Barclay?
Thorpe, 23, was the Yankees’ second round selection in 2022 and in his first action in pro ball went 14-2 with a 2.52 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP between High-A and Double-A. He also struck out 182 batters in 139 1/3 innings. Barclay, 25, was fantastic in Double-A this past season, posting a 1.32 ERA across 34 innings, but when he reached Triple-A, his command was all over the place and he walked 33 batters in 44 1/3 innings.
While the valuation would likely favor the Yankees in this deal by quite a bit due to the addition of Stanton’s contract, it could be a risk worth taking. Over at Baseball Trade Values, they have one year of Juan Soto worth just a touch more than Yankees #2 prospect Jasson Dominguez. Would the Padres prefer that one-for-one deal? Would the Yankees make that deal?
The Stanton and two prospects package makes sense because there is no guarantee that Soto re-signs with the Yankees after the season. It’s also a win-now move for the Padres, whose window remains firmly open and brings aboard a little depth as well.
Chicago Cubs add big bat
The Cubs have made the biggest splash this off-season in bringing aboard Craig Counsell to be the team’s new manager with a big, lucrative contract. There is no way they’re done. Their first order of business would likely be to re-sign Cody Bellinger after his monster season in 2023, which would solidify centerfield for years to come.
Obviously, that doesn’t leave many openings for Soto on the roster. But when you have a chance to acquire someone like Juan Soto, you take it. Again, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball and is still just 25.
- Juan Soto stats (2023): .275 average, 35 HR, 109 RBI, 12 SB, .930 OPS
In dealing with the Cubs, the Padres may be able to offer a little salary relief but wouldn’t be taking on extra money like the Stanton version of the Yankees deal.
If San Diego wants to do a one-for-one deal without paying any of Soto’s contract, they could probably land Cade Horton, Chicago’s number two prospect. If they added in maybe $10 million, they may be able to land the Cubs’ number three prospect, outfielder Owen Caissie, number five prospect and starting pitcher Ben Brown, and then maybe another player towards the bottom of the top 30.
The question for San Diego is whether it is looking to replenish the system with this deal and land a number of prospects that can help in the future, or if they are looking to retool and grab a big-league piece as well as a minor leaguer or two, like in the Yankees deal.
Related: Top 2023-24 MLB free agents
San Francisco Giants finally land big name
Here is the scenario where a Soto deal happens for the Giants: The Dodgers have just signed Shohei Ohtani to the biggest mega-deal that has ever existed. The Giants’ front office is already up against it with the fan base, and they need to make a move. San Francisco could be willing to overpay to get Soto away from the division rival Padres in the hopes that they can then re-sign him before next winter.
The Giants need to add a face of the franchise on the position player side soon, because right now they have Logan Webb and a bunch of robots. If they miss out on Ohtani, they’ll have to pivot. The only position player listed in the top 10 free agents this winter that could potentially be the face of a franchise is Cody Bellinger. The Giants would be wise to go the trade route for their face of the franchise after striking out year after year in free agency.
The problem for San Francisco here is that they don’t necessarily have movable top-end prospects. They could include #1 prospect LHP Kyle Harrison or #2 SS Marco Luciano, but the Giants would likely want more of a guarantee Soto would sign long-term before taking that risk. San Francisco would probably prefer dealing a number of prospects in order to make the deal work.
Here is one version of how that could look: Ryan Walker, who was stellar for the Giants in 2023, posting a 3.23 ERA across 61 1/3 innings and still has five years of team control left. He can help San Diego immediately.
Then you add in three prospects. First up is #3 prospect Carson Whisenhunt, a 23-year-old lefty with a mid-90’s heater and a devastating changeup. He was a second round pick in 2022 and could be ready for the jump to the bigs in about a year’s time.
From there, you add in #6 prospect Rayner Arias, a 17-year-old outfielder the Giants signed last January. He has above average tools across the board. Then you top it off with #13 prospect Vaun Brown, 25, who was some swing-and-miss in his game, but he’s graded as a 55 power guy with 70 speed. He’s a lottery ticket.
These are three very different trades for the Padres to consider, and if they end up trading Soto, the direction they have planned for the franchise is going to play a big part in what kind of a return they’re after.
Do they want to move pieces around and add a little depth? Would they like salary relief to go address other areas of need while picking up a couple of prospects? Or do they want a combination of those two where they get a piece that can help now, salary relief, and some prospects for later?
Whatever the Padres are after, you can be sure they’ll get it.