This is the winter of Shohei Ohtani, but the best consolation prize might be next winter’s top free agent.
Juan Soto has one more go-around through arbitration this winter before he can hit the free-agent market for the first time in his career following the 2024 season. A long-term contract with the San Diego Padres seems out of the question given the team’s financial situation so Soto will very likely be on the move this off-season.
Back in 2022, San Diego traded a significant package of prospects to the Washington Nationals for two-and-a-half years of Soto. They’ll be able to replenish some farm system depth by trading the three-time All-Star this winter but obviously won’t get back as much as they sent in the first place.
Former MLB general manager Jim Bowden wrote in The Athletic earlier this week about what Padres fans can expect from a Soto trade.
“If the Padres trade him this offseason, it’s realistic to think in a best-case scenario they’d be able to acquire an average major-league player, a top-three to top-seven prospect (ranking within an organization), a top-12 to top-15 prospect, and maybe even a top-35 to top-40 type prospect. Of course, the return depends on the strength of the other team’s farm system. If it’s a top-10 farm system, then the Padres probably would not get that much in return; if it’s a bottom-10 farm system, they would probably get even more.”
It’s difficult to project exactly which players would be sent the other way in a trade for a star player such as Soto because different teams value different things when it comes to minor leaguers beyond the boxcar results and system rankings that we often look at. But based on Bowden’s suggestion, a Blue Jays offer for Soto might see Alek Manoah as the roster player heading back to San Diego, along with Orelvis Martinez (No. 2 prospect), Chad Dallas (No. 13), and Adam Macko (No. 22) as the package of prospects.
That doesn’t seem like much for one of the best left-handed bats in baseball, but the Padres don’t really have any leverage here. Soto is going to earn more than $30 million in arbitration for the 2024 season and will likely command a contract bigger than the nine-year, $360 million deal that Aaron Judge signed as a free agent.
San Diego needs to find a team that believes they can afford to sign Soto and they’ll likely have to wait until after Ohtani chooses his destination to find a trade partner. The expectation is that one of the big-market teams that misses out on Ohtani, such as the New York Yankees or Chicago Cubs, will then turn their attention to Soto.
The Blue Jays need a left fielder and a game-changing bat this off-season. If they’re willing to spend the money needed to bring Ohtani to Toronto, they should also be comfortable going for Soto if it doesn’t work out. At only 25 years of age, he might actually be the best long-term investment a team can make this winter.
ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO