It’s not going to happen at the trade deadline. It probably won’t happen over the offseason. But, at some point, the Nationals (and possibly a new ownership group) are very likely going to face one of the toughest questions in the franchise’s history. Juan Soto is controllable for two more seasons after this year and it seems likely that he will reach free agency without agreeing to an extension. Does it make sense to continue to try to extend him with a mega-deal (which I’ve made the case for countless times) or will they have to trade him to ensure they get something back for him?
For a variety of reasons, I don’t think it’s likely that Soto gets dealt anytime before the 2024 offseason. He’s a generational talent entering his prime who sells tickets and changes the game. On top of that, finding a trade partner willing to offer what it would take to land him is a challenge in and of itself. But let’s play devil’s advocate and say that over the offseason, the team decides it’s going to be difficult to extend him and they’re ready to trade him. There are really only a couple of teams that would be able to offer what it takes to get 2 years of control of Juan Soto. Here are three hypothetical trade packages that could be offered, along with trade values from Baseball Trade Values:
Mariners receive: RF Juan Soto
Nats receive: SS Noelvi Marte, RHP George Kirby, OF Jared Kelenic, RHP Emerson Hancock and OF Kyle Lewis
The Mariners are probably the team that would best matchup with the Nats in a deal for Soto. Obviously the name that all Nats fans would be looking for here is Julio Rodriguez. I just don’t see the Mariners giving up 5 years of Rodriguez for 2 years of Juan Soto. Rodriguez obviously isn’t on the same level as Soto, but he does have the potential to be a game changer. In this hypothetical, the Nats would land the Mariners top 3 prospects. Each of those 3 guys are on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list. On top of that, they’d land Jared Kelenic, who hasn’t been able to put it together at the Major League level yet, but he was a top 10 MLB prospect last year. They’d land two SP who would step into the rotation right away, Kelenic who would take over in RF, Lewis who would take over in CF and Marte who would be the starting SS by mid to late-2023. If this deal were on the table, it’s likely the best offer the Nats would receive.
Trade value: Nats – 182.1, Mariners – 206.7
Rays receive: RF Juan Soto
Nats receive: RHP Shane Baz, OF Josh Lowe, RHP RHP Taj Bradley, SS/IF Vidal Brujan, SS/IFTaylor Walls and Seth Johnson
This one is undoubtedly far-fetched because the Rays know they wouldn’t be able to extend Soto after his two years of control. But if they thought they could win a World Series with a team built around Soto and Franco, they could potentially go for it. This package falls short of the Mariners offer in terms of prospect power, but Baz is MLB Pipeline’s #10 prospect and projected to be a front of the rotation starter. Lowe broke camp with the Rays, but was a top 50 prospect coming into the season. He’s struggled so far in his first taste of Major League pitching but he’s projected as a 25-HR corner outfielder with plus speed. The Nats would also get Vidal Brujan, another top 100 prospect, who can play anywhere in the infield with an above-average hit tool. Bradley ranked #70 on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects and has been utterly dominant through 49 starts (2.64 ERA, 240 Ks in 208 IP) in the minor leagues. He would be poised to step into a rotation spot next season alongside Baz. Walls, another top 100 prospect (getting old yet?), is a shortstop by trade but has been playing mostly third base so far this year. To round it out, the Nats would get minor league pitcher, Seth Johnson. He could be ready as early as 2023, with many within the Rays organization very excited about his potential after a very strong second half in 2021.
Trade value: Nats – 158.2, Rays 206.7
Padres receive: Juan Soto, Patrick Corbin and $10 million
Nats receive: SS C.J. Abrams, LHP MacKenzie Gore, OF Robert Hassell, SS/IF Jackson Merrill and OF Joshua Mears
This prospect package from the Padres would be a position heavy group, which might not appeal to the Nats as much as the other two packages. The prospect package isn’t as enticing as the other two, either. But, in this scenario, the Nats are able to offload Corbin’s contract by sending $10 million in cash and taking a lesser package. Now, by lesser package, the Nats still wind up with each of the Padres top 3 prospects, but Merrill and Mears are still question marks. While Abrams struggled in his first taste of Major League action, he still projects as a potential All-Star shortstop. Gore has looked dominant over his first month and a half in the Majors and Hassell was the Padres first round pick in 2020 and has been crushing minor league pitching since making his debut. Merrill is a SS by trade, but could shift to 2B or 3B depending on need (Abrams likely would stick at SS). He has above-average hit and power tools which should make him an everyday player at the Major League level. Mears would be the biggest question mark. He has grade 60 power, but he struck out in an alarming 39.2% of his ABs in 2021.
Trade value: Nats – 144.6, Padres – 151
By no means are any of these deals likely to happen, but the Nats have to keep their options open. Letting Soto leave for nothing would be a detrimental mistake. They let both Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon walk and got the equivalent of nothing in return. They correctly traded Trea Turner along with Max Scherzer and landed their everyday catcher, who will likely make a couple of All-Star appearances, and a mid-rotation starter. Moving Soto wouldn’t be easy, but if they’re not planning on offering an extension that tops $425 million, they have to consider it. With Scott Boras representing Soto, the offer would have to blow them away to accept it. It’s doable, but I’m not sure the Lerners are interested in making that deal while also trying to sell the team. So, you could hypothetically deal him and then bid on him when he hits free agency. Sure, you might be bidding against 29 other teams, but that might happen even if you hang onto him.