Juan Soto Is Available?

marc w · July 20, 2022 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

So, I want to get to the draft and give it a bit more emphasis, but rightly or wrongly, the story in MLB right now is somehow NOT the All-Star Game, or Julioooo’s showing in the HR derby. Instead, it’s the story (likely released by the Nats ownership) that Juan Soto had rejected what was both 1) the largest total dollar contract in MLB history and 2) an AAV underpay for one of the most remarkable young hitters we’ve seen in decades. As a result of this impasse, the Nats would look to trade the 23-year-old Soto. This set off a few days of insane trade speculation; you can’t just dangle an absolute superstar at age 23, under contract through 2024, and NOT engender some trade scenarios. It’s part of the deal.

So let’s engage with that for a minute. The M’s, by virtue both of their farm system and their sudden emergence in the 2022 playoff race, make some sense here. I think people are loathe to trade too much of value if Soto can’t be extended, and I understand that to a degree. But Soto coming available right in the M’s contention window, and right at a time when they’ve fought back into playoff position, means it’s time to shift the thinking from long-term and sustainability to maximizing the team’s chances of success – not only to get to the playoffs, but to win them. Further, there’s no kind of reason the M’s COULDN’T extend Soto. You just…you just have to pay him what he wants/can command. That’s not hard, right? Easy for me to say, sure, but it’s fundamentally a less complicated matter than developing a bunch of prospects going through the ups and downs of baseball life, acclimate them to the game, hope the Astros don’t make a splash in FA, and have everything else in place to…what, win the AL West in 2026?

The story of the season has been 1) the emergence, yet again, of an effective pitching staff out of what looked like Robbie Ray and a bunch of question marks and 2) the emergence, yet again, of a legitimate baseball superstar in Seattle. The pitching staff has done an admirable job of being good to good-enough in spots that looked like problems or at least question marks coming into the year: the back of the rotation, the bullpen, which Marco Gonzales are we getting? Can Chris Flexen do it again? But none of it matters if the M’s can’t score, and despite an offense that scores well by wRC+ and the like, they don’t score well in actual baseball games. Julio’s arrival has made them a legitimate contender. That is absolutely not to ignore the contributions of Ty France, Eugenio Suarez, Carlos Santana, and JP Crawford. They’re not a BAD offense, I don’t think. But they’ve been something akin to the pitching staff: a group that tries to identify and remove black holes, and build a whole lot of “good enough” hitters around the France/Julio/Suarez core. It worked even in April when Julio hadn’t yet clicked, but what we’ve seen in the past 30 days is an offense that can win games by themselves, not just late-game 4-3 scrappers. That’s fun, and it’s made the M’s a contender. But it also puts an incredible amount of pressure on 21-year-old Julio Rodriguez.

The players around him in the line-up have been incredibly streaky, from France on down. Hell, Julio’s season looks weird given his early-season struggles. But at this point, it really looks like they go as far as Julio can take them. He is the brightest young star the M’s have had in I don’t know how long; it’s either Felix in 2005, or I suppose it sort of depends on if you consider Ichiro in 2001 “young.” But a franchise that’s been so synonymous with superstar players (er, and underachieving), finally has one again. They cannot – CANNOT – waste this.

If you consider the M’s a player-development juggernaut, I’d argue that you’d be fine with the M’s offloading some prospects in exchange for Soto. You can always make more, right? At this point, it’s all but certain that a deal (or a non-Julio deal which is, rightly, a non-starter as far as the M’s are concerned) for Soto would need to include top prospect Noelvi Marte. But hey, you’re the M’s, you just saw Edwin Arroyo put up even better numbers in Modesto, AND you just drafted a young SS in the first round. There you go. Would it hurt to include George Kirby in the deal? Absolutely; this is going to hurt, by definition – a lot is going to be going the other way. But the Dodgers had to include Josiah Gray in exchange for a lot less of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, and, importantly: they would 100% do it again if they had the chance.

If you think the M’s record with prospects is a bit more mixed – if you think about Evan White, Jarred Kelenic and Shed Long or whoever and worry – then I’d think that you’d be even more into the trade. If you believe that prospects can’t be counted on, at least in this org, then why hold onto them and let them break your heart? Why not strike now when some other org will give you Juan freaking Soto in exchange for the opportunity to be heartbroken?

The story today is that the Nats want to include Patrick Corbin in the deal to get out from under the balance of his $140 million deal – roughly $70M or so, including $35M in 2024. Here again the M’s confront a dilemma that’s not actually a dilemma. If they view the prospect price is too high, they could happily bring in Corbin. Even if he never throws a pitch for them, hey, they get to keep Soto AND Kirby (or Marte). If they see themselves as pitching whisperers, getting more out of the likes of Paul Sewald and Chris Flexen than anyone would’ve believed, then the same goes: this might NOT be dead money.

So, what are we talking about here? In that Jim Bowden article linked above, the price would be Kirby, Marte, Emerson Hancock, Harry Ford and a flyer on a younger prospect. This is, as everyone has surmised would be the case in a Soto deal, almost unprecedented in terms of a trade package. I think you can make the case that a trade for a Juan Soto-type player at age 23 NOT in a walk year (how would that even work…nevermind) is similarly unprecedented. This checks all of the boxes the Nats wanted: young, MLB-level players, plus top-tier prospects. I think it’s also the price for Soto, solo. That is, if Corbin is in the deal, one or more of Marte, Hancock, and/or Ford is coming out of it.

To me, this is a nearly unthinkable alignment. The Nats going cheap (yes I KNOW they offered him a lot of money) right as the M’s emerge *despite* a so-so offense. I’d argue there is no team that Soto changes more than the Seattle Mariners. You cannot allow him to go to an AL Wild Card team, either. The Tampa Bay Rays match up really well here, and might be 2nd to Seattle in terms of a team whose playoff outlook would change with Soto in the fold. The price is eye-wateringly high, so just buy it down and take Corbin. Some will say that this could impact a potential Julioooo extension, and while the club might claim that, it just doesn’t work. The M’s could extend Juliooo after the Soto deal is off the books. They could say the M’s would be forced to choose between the two. That’s…that’s the best “worst case scenario” I have ever heard of, and like all of these supposed dilemmas and riddles, it is *easily solvable* with US currency. The M’s fought so hard to be in a position to spend. They’re in it. Now you’ve got to do it.

This brings up the last alternative: why not wait until the end of the year, and just buy an offensive star without having to give up any prospects? This makes some sense, with Aaron Judge looking like he’ll be available. There’s only one problem: there are going to be a lot more suitors for Judge than there will be for Soto *despite the fact that Soto is better*. Teams that can’t hope to compete in the trade market can absolutely compete in free agency. We’ve seen dark horses like Minnesota and Detroit nab some big-dollar free agents, and of course teams like the New Yorks and Dodgers of the world will be interested. It’s counterintuitive, but true: it’s probably easier to get a trade done. Finally, there’s the issue of age. Aaron Judge wasn’t even in the majors yet at Soto’s current age. As a college-drafted player, he’s already 30. We are comparing Soto’s age 24-26 seasons to Judge’s age 31-3X seasons. Look, I’m not trying to denigrate Judge, and if the M’s can’t get Soto they simply MUST try and get Judge. But Judge – as great as he is – would be a consolation prize.

Comments

6 Responses to “Juan Soto Is Available?”

  1. Paul B on July 21st, 2022 2:33 pm

    Too pricey. I have a hard time believing the Mariners would seriously consider it.

  2. bookbook on July 21st, 2022 5:56 pm

    They also won’t sign Judge

  3. joshb3 on July 21st, 2022 10:27 pm

    Do you think the Nats low-balled him with that offer?

  4. Stevemotivateir on July 26th, 2022 6:28 am

    A package of Kirby, Marte, Emerson Hancock, Harry Ford and a younger prospect would mean trading even more prospects to acquire a starter to replace Kirby. Then there’s the issue of monitoring/carefully handling Gilbert. They would arguably need a swing-man as well, which would mean yet another acquisition.

    I don’t think that would make much sense.

    However, if eating the entire 70m owed to Corbin meant a package of Marte or Arroyo, Hancock, and, say, Kelenic, I think they absolutely have to pull the trigger.

    But it’s so easy to look at a team like San Diego and see them getting a deal done as they could potentially swap bad contracts to offset a little salary and still give them a package centered around Abrams, Hassell, and Gore.

    Seattle might be better off getting a starter, perhaps even in a three-way deal where they take part of Corbin’s contract to lighten the return, then go after players in free agency that would give them a formidable contender moving forward–and there are more than a few that would fit seemingly perfectly.

    I’m a Soto fan. I just don’t see it happening.

  5. Stevemotivateir on July 26th, 2022 6:30 am

    Do you think the Nats low-balled him with that offer?

    There’s no such thing as a 440m low-ball offer in baseball. The problem with that offer, as suggested by a number of journalists & analysts, was likely more to do with the deal being heavily back-loaded, the current state of the franchise and the fact that the team will likely be sold in the coming years.

  6. Stevemotivateir on July 26th, 2022 6:36 am

    Too pricey. I have a hard time believing the Mariners would seriously consider it.

    That was my initial thought, and I still think that will be the end result.

    But it’s worth noting that Jerry was able to bring Iwakuma back after they had resigned to the belief that they had lost him to LA and had already spent the dough elsewhere.

    Huge difference in cost, obviously, but it does show that there’s at least some consideration/effort when an opportunity presents itself.

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