Biggest deal ever? What to make of blockbuster Juan Soto trade
Juan Soto is a San Diego Padre. In the biggest blockbuster of the 2022 MLB trade deadline, the Washington Nationals dealt the 23-year-old megastar for a treasure trove of top prospects.
Now that Soto will be playing his home games at Petco Park, what does it mean for the Padres and the rest of baseball this season and beyond? Has there ever been a midseason trade quite this monumental?
ESPN baseball experts Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield answer the biggest questions.
Is this the biggest trade deadline deal ever?
Alden Gonzalez: Imagine Mike Trout getting traded in the middle of the 2015 season. Or Ken Griffey Jr. in 1993. Or Rickey Henderson in 1982. Or Willie Mays in 1954. Or Babe Ruth in … oh, wait, there it is. Yep, you might have to go back to the early part of the 20th century — to Babe Ruth literally getting sold to the Yankees in the most infamous deal in baseball history — to find a suitable comp to the Nationals trading a 23-year-old Soto. Point is: Players aren’t traded when they’re both this good and this young. This is different.
David Schoenfield: Alden is right; there has never been a deadline trade with a young superstar like Soto. Indeed, he’s the first player 23 or younger to be traded in-season in a year when he was an All-Star. And he’s arguably the best hitter in the game (granted, he hasn’t been quite as good this season, though he’s been red-hot the past month). But to answer the question … it’s hard to beat the shocking trade of Tom Seaver from the Mets to the Reds in 1977 (back when the deadline was June 15).
Bradford Doolittle: Bigger than the Royals trading for Stan Belinda in 2003? Maybe. But, yes, this has a great chance to go down as the biggest trade deadline deal ever. There is a potential all-time great in Soto changing teams and doing so before he’s arguably even hit the prime of his career. By itself, that is monumental. Let’s say he ends up as a top-50 all-time player. I don’t think anyone who is on that list now changed teams midseason before they were 30, much less before they were 25. Then you have a group of players going to the Nationals who have a chance to be really good for them. And there’s also Josh Bell! I just don’t think there’s ever been an in-season deal like this.
Joon Lee: Forget just the trade deadline, this is one of the biggest trades in baseball history. This is right up there with Alex Rodriguez going from the Rangers to the Yankees. Combine the fact that Soto is one of the greatest players in the game with the fact that he’s 23, and he’s relatively unprecedented in the history of baseball in terms of offensive production. In the same way a player like Shohei Ohtani doesn’t really have a comp, this trade doesn’t have much of a comp either.
Are the Padres the National League’s new team to beat?
Gonzalez: Prior to this trade, the top tier of teams had been clearly defined. It was the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros, Mets and Braves, in whatever order you wanted to place them. The second tier was a little murky — and the Padres have now vaulted themselves above it. The highest tier now includes six clubs, and the Padres are just as good as any of the others. It’s no longer about whether they can reach the World Series; it’s about whether they can win it. Their pitching staff was already championship-caliber. When Fernando Tatis Jr. returns, their offense will be too.
Jesse Rogers: Not necessarily. But this was clearly a move to compete with the Dodgers — not just this season, but over the next few years. If L.A. wasn’t such a beast, Padres GM A.J. Preller might not have needed to be this aggressive in giving up so much of his farm system. But as they were constituted, the Padres weren’t good enough to overtake the Dodgers. Now they have a shot. It won’t be during this regular season unless there’s a complete collapse by Los Angeles. But the two teams, separated by just barely one hundred miles, will be battling it out at the top of the NL West for years to come.
Doolittle: Think of it like this: The Padres are on pace to win 90 games and have the run differential of an eventual 87-win team. That’s pretty good, and in this playoff format, they’re a team that will make the bracket. Now you add a player having an All-Star season (Bell), two top-10 overall players (Soto and Tatis) and a top-five closer in Josh Hader. You do all of this without giving up anyone likely to have a significant impact on your stretch run. They haven’t caught the Dodgers, but they have put themselves right there with everyone else in the NL.
Lee: I chose the Padres to win the World Series last year, in part because I got caught up in the hype of their offseason. So I’ve got some lingering trust issues here, but this San Diego team looked the part of a playoff squad even before the return of Tatis from the injured list.
What does this deal mean for their NL West-rival Dodgers?
Gonzalez: Right around this time last year, the Padres were stunned to see Max Scherzer slip from their fingers and land with the Dodgers. They were even more shocked to see Scherzer and Trea Turner lumped together in the same trade — especially when they found the return to be inferior. Losing out on Scherzer in many ways triggered the Padres’ precipitous fall, given how they basically ran out of starting pitchers. This year, they made sure to land arguably the greatest trade chip ever — and now, more than ever, the Dodgers are in for a fight. Their 12-game cushion in the division is probably too big for the Padres to overcome, but the teams will probably meet in the playoffs, and the two will be very evenly matched. The Dodgers’ pitching staff leads the majors in ERA, but the Padres’ group is arguably deeper and better. The Padres will have Manny Machado, Tatis and now Soto at the top of their lineup — though the Dodgers’ offense is probably even scarier.
Rogers: Not much right now, but it will keep Los Angeles pushing hard to add in the offseason to keep its reign going. If the teams face off in the postseason this year, Soto could be a difference-maker, so in that regard, the deal definitely has the immediate attention of the Dodgers. Not that Soto is susceptible to left-handed pitching, but Los Angeles may want to stack up on lefty-matchup relievers for the next couple of years. If there’s a Soto specialist out there, he belongs in L.A.
Doolittle: I would think this sharpens the Dodgers’ focus on whether they have the right mix at the back of its bullpen. L.A. still has a marked talent edge over everyone else in the NL, but that gap has narrowed considerably over the last two days. Now, when you consider a possible Dodgers-Padres postseason matchup, L.A. has to look at that bullpen and make sure they have the right guy to match up with a Tatis-Soto-Machado (wow!) heart of the order in the late innings. And they have to make sure they have the right guy to close it out when Hader is looming on the other side.
Is Soto/Tatis/Machado the most exciting trio in baseball?
Gonzalez: The only real comp — and it’s close — resides in the same division, with the Dodgers’ trio of Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Turner. And that’s what makes this so darn fun. Machado might win an MVP this season. Soto might be the greatest pure hitter since Ted Williams. Tatis — when fully healthy, and it appears he finally is again — might be the most electrifying player in the sport. This doesn’t mean the Padres have the best offense in the majors, mind you. They desperately needed help; only five teams have a lower slugging percentage at this point. But Soto at the top, Bell near the middle and Tatis back soon is a monumental boost. With the pitching staff they have, they don’t need much more.
Rogers: I think there’s good company in the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo. Yeah, maybe Rizzo doesn’t scream “superstar” the way Soto does, the lone lefties in the two trios, but with the game on the line, which duo of righties would you rather face? I’ll take my chances with Tatis/Machado over Judge/Stanton.
Doolittle: It’s the best trio in baseball. Neither Soto nor Tatis has even turned 24. The three-year ZIPS projections at FanGraphs have them as baseball’s top two players in both 2023 and 2024. Machado is an MVP candidate right now. This has the potential to be one of the most dynamic, multiseason power trios we’ve ever seen. Exciting? That seems exciting. But if you’re a Dodgers fan (or especially a Giants, Rockies or Diamondbacks fan), then not so much.
Schoenfield: I’ll still go with Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez. I mean, granted, that was 25 years ago, but that was one hell of a trio. (With 40-homer Jay Buhner as the Ringo of the group.)
Lee: Yes. It’s not just that they are three stars in their primes, but also three stars with the personalities of Soto, Tatis and Machado. It’s just not just a trio of guys who can tear the cover off the ball, but a trio that can bring young fans into the sport.
Will Soto sign long-term with San Diego?
Gonzalez: This is where it gets a little tough. Soto is primed to become the first $500 million baseball player in history. He could command $40 million-plus a year. At the start of 2025, Soto’s first free agent year, the Padres would still owe Tatis $306 million over 10 years and Machado $120 million over four years (not to mention $60 million over three years for starting pitcher Joe Musgrove, who recently signed an extension). Can they pay another superstar at levels even beyond that — and stay in contention? Probably not. The guess here is that Soto mashes for them through two Octobers, and then Preller flips him going into his free agent year to rebuild the farm system he stripped to land Soto in the first place. That’s what Preller’s so good at in the first place.
Rogers: No one can know for sure right now, but I don’t see it. At the price he’ll command, the Yankees and Dodgers have to get involved. If the Padres aren’t competing in 2024, then Preller can flip Soto again — or if they are competing, revisit an extension at that point. But there’s always a good chance a Scott Boras client gets to free agency. Why should this be any different considering how young Soto is? Having said that, if San Diego can afford both Tatis and Soto long-term, then no team in the game can cry poor.
Doolittle: It’s hard to get that image of Soto relaxing with Boras behind the screen at Dodger Stadium during the playoffs out of one’s mind. It’s also hard to forget Soto acknowledging the fans chanting, “Fut-ure Dod-ger!” during All-Star week. This is the history of baseball during the last half-century. The best players find their way to the biggest markets. We’re talking about a half-billion dollars, right? I still see him winding up with the Dodgers. I kind of hope I’m wrong though, because this is going to be fun. And I like the idea of this generation’s Ted Williams winding up in the Splinter’s hometown. I can’t wait for the first photo shoot of Soto posing at Lane Field.
Lee: It’s hard to imagine San Diego would offer this much of its future without knowing what it would take to sign Soto. Soto is likely to be searching for a half-billion-dollar deal, so I have to imagine the Padres will do everything they can to lock him up early. If I’m Soto though, barring injury, I’m waiting to hit free agency. This trade should serve as confirmation of his unprecedented value and should harden his desire to find the perfect combination of team and salary.
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