Juan Soto, an elite hitter often compared to the greatest in baseball history, has become a surprising subject of trade rumors this winter. Despite his exceptional talent, Soto has already experienced a trade from the Nationals to the Padres at the 2022 Trade Deadline. This potential for a second trade reflects more on the Padres’ situation than on Soto’s capabilities. With key players like Blake Snell, Seth Lugo, Josh Hader, Michael Wacha, and Nick Martinez entering free agency, and the recent passing of team chairman Peter Seidler, there’s uncertainty about the Padres’ future operations.
The Padres, boasting a roster with stars like Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Yu Darvish, Ha-Seong Kim, Joe Musgrove, and Fernando Tatis Jr., still have a strong chance to be contenders in 2024. While they might retain Soto and consider a trade at the deadline or not at all, speculation is mounting about a potential trade.
Soto’s talent is undeniable. He’s maintained the lofty expectations set during 2019-20 when he was compared to Ted Williams. Though the game has evolved significantly since Williams’ era, Soto’s performance up to age 24 is nearly unmatched. Among post-war hitters, Soto ranks seventh in OPS+ through age 24, a list dominated by Hall of Famers and future inductees.
When the Padres traded for Soto, they anticipated leveraging his talent for three playoff pushes. However, with Soto nearing free agency, the rarity of a player of his caliber being moved with just a year left on his contract comes into play.
Finding similar trades in history is challenging due to the rarity of such occurrences. Notable trades that somewhat resemble Soto’s situation include Jason Heyward’s move to the Cardinals, Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, and Francisco Lindor to the Mets. Each of these players was traded close to free agency, much like Soto’s current situation.
Considering potential destinations for Soto, all 30 MLB teams would benefit from his addition, but factors like payroll and contention timelines limit the options. The Mets, Cubs, Giants, Blue Jays, and Yankees emerge as the top fits. The Mets and Cubs have financial flexibility and need to bolster their lineups, the Giants and Blue Jays offer competitive rosters that could be elevated by Soto’s presence, and the Yankees, with a roster craving a left-handed power hitter like Soto, stand as an ideal destination to revive their lineup and fan base excitement. Soto’s addition to any of these teams could be a transformative move, potentially setting the stage for a new chapter in his already illustrious career.