As the postseason plays out and the offseason nears, let’s look ahead to a big trade storyline to watch: Will the San Diego Padres move Juan Soto?
Soto was arguably the Padres’ best position player this season, slashing .275/.410/.519 (158 OPS+) with 35 home runs, 109 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. He led the majors in walks for the third time in his career and played all 162 games for San Diego. He’s also just one year away from reaching free agency. The Padres likely must decide whether to extend or trade him this offseason and are keeping both options on the table. Personally, I would sign him if possible.
To extend Soto, the Padres must be prepared to pay him more than the 15-year, $440 million contract the Washington Nationals offered him last year, which he turned down; that seems unlikely with several lucrative contracts already on their books, including those of Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts. San Diego is also coming off a disastrous season in which it failed to make the playoffs, and the club might have to replace Blake Snell and Josh Hader, who are headed for free agency this winter.
However, no one can underestimate owner Peter Seidler given the money he’s poured into the Padres’ payroll in recent years. (Soto is projected to make $33 million via arbitration next year, per MLB Trade Rumors.) But Soto is represented by agent Scott Boras, who has a track record of preferring to take his clients to free agency, where he frequently sets contract records.
Combine the expected contract it would take to sign Soto long term and the above factors, and it seems there’s a real possibility San Diego will trade him this offseason.
The Padres gave up quite a haul to acquire Soto (and Josh Bell) from the Nationals at the 2022 trade deadline, parting with outfield prospects James Wood and Robert Hassell III, pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Jarlin Susana, shortstop CJ Abrams as well as first baseman Luke Voit. They can’t expect to get that type of return a year and a half later when Soto has just one year of team control remaining. However, the Padres could still get a significant package for Soto, who will turn 25 next week and is one of the game’s brightest stars.
Several big-market and contending teams need an impact bat for the middle of the lineup to put them over the top, and I believe would be willing to trade a strong package of prospects or even some major-league players to land someone of Soto’s status.
You can’t rule out the Padres finding common ground with Soto on a huge extension, but if that doesn’t happen, they need to seriously consider moving him this winter. To set the stage for trade season, let’s look at five teams that could make sense as destinations if Soto is dealt, as well as potential trade packages.
1. New York Yankees
The Yankees (82-80) finished 19 games behind the Baltimore Orioles and 17 behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. New York made progress in integrating young players such as Anthony Volpe and Jasson Domínguez into its lineup this past season, but the club has a long way to go to close the gap and catch the division pacesetters. A trade for Soto makes sense because the Yankees badly need another impact left-handed hitter and must get younger at the same time. When healthy, the trio of Soto, Domínguez and Aaron Judge should be the best offensive outfield in the sport. (Domínguez will miss at least several months of next season as he works back from Tommy John surgery.)
The Yankees have the resources to sign Soto long term if the move works out or they could trade him at the 2024 deadline if things go south. They could offer the Padres a package of major-league-ready talent including pitchers Michael King and Jhony Brito, outfielder Everson Pereira and infielder Oswald Peraza. If they landed Soto, the Yankees could then focus mostly on improving their starting rotation for the rest of the offseason.
2. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox need to make a splash this offseason and a Soto trade would certainly qualify. It also would take some of the pressure off the young players they’re developing, including Triston Casas, Jarren Duran and Ceddanne Rafaela. A potential Red Sox package could start with Alex Verdugo, who would immediately become the Padres’ starting left fielder. Add in starting pitcher Tanner Houck (who would go right into the Padres’ rotation) and a couple of good prospects such as outfielder Miguel Bleis and right-hander Luis Perales. Can you imagine Verdugo being a centerpiece in both the Mookie Betts trade and a potential Soto trade? I can’t either, but with Soto having only one year of control remaining, it obviously reduces the return significantly.
3. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have one of the best young rotations in baseball with Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Bryce Miller, Bryan Woo, Emerson Hancock and Robbie Ray. They have impact arms at the back end of their bullpen with Andrés Muñoz, Matt Brash and Justin Topa. However, they just don’t have enough offense in their lineup to overtake the Astros or Rangers in the AL West. A Soto trade would change that immediately as Seattle could put the three-time All-Star between Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez in its lineup.
The Mariners are blessed with enough starting pitching to offer Miller and one of their top five prospects, either outfielder Gabriel Gonzalez or catcher Harry Ford, in a two-for-one deal for Soto. It would be a huge price to pay for possibly only one year of Soto, but unless the Mariners can sign Shohei Ohtani or Cody Bellinger in free agency, how else can they improve their offense enough to make the playoffs next year and have a legitimate shot at a world championship?
4. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have been trying to land a superstar to build around but have fallen short with past attempts to acquire Giancarlo Stanton, Judge and Carlos Correa, among others. With the Giants front office under more pressure than ever this winter after a subpar season — plus the contracts of both of their top baseball operations executives, Farhan Zaidi and Pete Putila, expiring after next year — it’s time for the club to step up and finally land its next face of the franchise. The Giants are expected to make a run at Ohtani, but that seems like more of a long shot. Therefore, trading for Soto might make sense. I understand it would be difficult for the Padres to trade him to an NL West team. Perhaps it would be hard for the Giants to trade for a player represented by Boras after failing to finalize a deal with Correa, another Boras client, last offseason due to conflicting views of his medical records. However, at the end of the day, the Padres will make the best deal they can for Soto if they trade him — even if it’s within the division.
So what would a Giants package look like that might entice the Padres? In order to trade him to a division rival, it probably has to start with their best starting pitching prospect, lefty Kyle Harrison, plus shortstop Walker Martin, who was a second-round pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, and outfielder Luis Matos. That’s a robust package for one year of Soto, but trading for him now could lead to the Giants signing him long term, which would make the deal well worth it.
5. Cleveland Guardians
Will you stop laughing and let me explain? The Guardians have built a young, talented and inexpensive starting rotation of Triston McKenzie, Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams, along with a strong bullpen led by Emmanuel Clase, Sam Hentges and Trevor Stephan. What they’re missing is impact hitters. A trade for Soto would drastically improve their chances of making the playoffs next year by bolstering the middle of their lineup beyond José Ramírez and Josh Naylor.
The Guardians could potentially swap their ace, Shane Bieber, and left fielder Steven Kwan for Soto. Bieber is also a free agent after next year and could help the Padres fill the void left by Snell in their rotation and Kwan, a Gold Glove Award winner, would give them improved defense in left field and another high on-base percentage player for the top of the lineup. Of course, from a Guardians standpoint, if they aren’t in the race come July, they could always turn around and deal Soto at the trade deadline.
(Top photo: Matt Thomas / San Diego Padres / Getty Images)