There are building blocks to almost every trade, with the final transaction usually built on a slow, methodical process where the teams involved evaluate, theorize, exchange concepts and haggle.
But as the Juan Soto negotiations progress and Washington general manager Mike Rizzo considers his options, Rizzo’s peers say he has a long history of moving quickly — and decisively. What Rizzo tends to do, rival executives say, is identify the prospects he wants from a particular organization and then focus his deal-making on that team. “We wanted to talk about [Max] Scherzer and [Trea] Turner,” said one NL decision maker, “but it felt like we weren’t really even allowed to be in the room. It seemed like Rizz kind of decided he wanted Keibert Ruiz and then worked with the Dodgers.
If the Soto talks go the same way, then what will matter most in these negotiations is who Rizzo wants to bolster the Nationals’ organization. The message that other clubs have received from Washington is that the team wants big league-ready players – young players on cheap contracts who are already in the big leagues or close to making their debut.
Soon enough, rival executives will find out if Rizzo — who did not return a message for this article — prefers shortstop CJ Abrams and/or pitcher Mackenzie Gore, who may be the best trade chips the Padres are willing to offer. Or would Rizzo rather comb through the voluminous wave of position player prospects the Cardinals could offer, from Nolan Gorman to Jordan Walker to Dylan Carlson. And there are other options who could made available if Rizzo prefers to try to build a deal around Yankees shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe, or the Giants’ Marco Luciano.
Regardless of who is included, a deal for Soto is a real possibility before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, according to several rival executives — in part because his trade value will only decrease year-over-year, in line with his rising salary, and in part because of the perception of that the ongoing sale of the team is a driving force. The incoming owners may want the Soto situation resolved, one way or another, before they take over the team, lest they be left with the unsavory task of dealing a future Hall of Famer.
At least two rival executives believe this is just an exercise for the Nationals, a time to gather information at a time when Washington is better prepared to make what would be a monumental trade.
Whenever the Nationals pull it off, it would see Soto, 23, become the most significant young player traded since 24-year-old Babe Ruth was dealt from the Red Sox to the Yankees in December 1919. Soto’s plate discipline sets him apart from the best. hitters of this era, and in most eras; So far in his career, he has more walks (452) than strikeouts (406), with a career adjusted OPS+ of 160, better than most all-time greats. Henry Aaron’s career adjusted OPS+ was 155; Stan Musial’s 159.
Soto would be a perfect fit for each made, of course, including small market clubs. As one executive noted, the fact that Soto isn’t locked into a massive long-term deal means that even the teams with the most modest budgets could get involved. Taking on Soto’s remaining salary wouldn’t destroy a payroll: He’s making $17.1 million this year, and is arbitration eligible — he could see his salary jump into the $23-24 million range next year and close to $30 million in 2024 before he reaches free agency.
“You saw this spring how the Rays took a shot to sign Freddie Freeman,” noted one evaluator. “Any team can bring Soto on and immediately make their lineup that much better.”
The Padres are viewed by rival managers as perhaps the most motivated team on the trade market, with an aggressive all-in mentality. Owner Peter Seidler has financed one of the highest payrolls in baseball, highlighted by Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., and the club has had internal discussions about pursuing some of the bigger names in free agency over the next couple of years — so presumably, they would be ready to move prospects for Soto. Seidler has become his generation’s Mike Ilitch, devoted to the idea of building a winner for his city, even if it means spending beyond industry expectations for his team.
There are plenty of other contenders: The Blue Jays, in the midst of a window of opportunity for their young core of players, desperately need a left-handed hitter to complement right-handed hitting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The Dodgers keep doing big results. aggressive moves, like for Scherzer and Turner last summer, but within the organization there is confidence in the excellence of the current roster and some concern about the high number of prospects dealt in recent years. The Cardinals’ primary need at the moment may be for high-end pitching, rather than a hitter — even one as big as Soto. The White Sox, like the Padres, are in a win-now mode. The Rangers have the salary and prospect wealth to have some flexibility to make a big move. The Mets and Braves may have wanted Soto, but it’s not yet clear if the Nationals will even consider installing Soto with the division rivals they now have to chase. The Yankees are a franchise with extraordinary wealth and financial prowess, but an organization source said the front office’s current focus is on American League MVP candidate Aaron Judge, who will be eligible for free agency in the fall. A Rivals executive said, “Actually, getting Soto would give them an excuse to move on from Judge — and they’d get the younger player, which the Braves get [Matt Olson] after they couldn’t sign Freeman.”
Because Soto has no non-trade rights and is under team control for another two and a half seasons, a team that acquires him in a deal can now even flip him before he reaches free agency to recoup some prospect value. The evaluator singled out the Guardians as an example: “They are doing well [farm] system and could use those assets now and have him try to win this year and sometime in 2023 or 2024 could flip him to another team — and he would have a lot of value. He’s so good.”
After an emotional week for Soto — the leak of his rejection of the Nats’ $440 million, 15-year offer, the trip to Los Angeles, a Home Run Derby win — some rival officials now believe the leak is serving both the player and the team. For Soto and agent Scott Boras, it sets an extraordinary floor for future negotiations, and for the Nationals, it’s a message to fans that yes, they tried to keep Soto with what would have been a record-setting deal. It’s also a concrete demonstration to the industry of the exceptional value in the slugger – something the team certainly hopes potential trade partners will keep in mind.