How the Juan Soto deal can shift MLB’s balance of power for years and create a $500 million man in the process
Major League Baseball’s trade deadline produced a number of good moves, and some will likely have a direct impact on how this year’s playoffs might play out. But there was one deal that could very well have playoff implications for years to come.
By now, baseball fans have seen Juan Soto’s stats that show how the young star compares favorably to some of the greatest players in baseball history. We’re talking about Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and those types of inner circle legends. Soto won’t be 24 until October, but he already has 569 hits, 108 doubles, 119 homers, 358 RBI, 399 runs and a World Series ring.
Seeing a player with this special offer is quite shocking. This almost never happens, as we hardly ever see players of Soto’s caliber. It is extremely rare.
That’s why the movement will be felt throughout baseball for years to come. It’s a movement that changes the landscape, and to find a composition, you would have to go back 15 years in time.
One of the first thoughts I had after closing the deal with Soto was when Cabrera was traded in 2007 after his 24-year season from the Marlins to the Tigers. It wasn’t a term deal, but Miggy was also a generational talent at a similar age. The Marlins won the World Series his rookie year. They followed that up with two winning seasons before they started going south. Cabrera was shipped to Detroit with Dontrelle Willis.
Headlining the deal were outfielder Cameron Maybin and up-and-coming left starter Andrew Miller. They were both top 10 prospects in all of baseball prior to the 2007 season.
Maybin had a great career, although it was mostly as an auxiliary journeyman. Miller became an ace reliever, but not for five years and for different teams. Four other players were included, with the biggest impact coming from reliever Burke Badenhop.
Was it really worth it for the Marlins to rebuild their franchise by trading Miguel Freaking Cabrera when he was just 24? It sure doesn’t look like it.
Cabrera would become a Tigers legend, a perennial All-Star who won back-to-back MVPs. He won the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski. The Tigers won the 2012 pennant and were one of the most successful franchises of the first half of the 2010s.
It’s the type of trajectory in a deal like this that feels like a cautionary tale for the Nationals and underscores the Padres’ potential to hit hard.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s how this deal will work.
Mark Teixeira’s business
Those in the Nationals camp are hoping there will be at least some resemblance to when Rangers left Mark Teixeira. Now he was a bit older, as it was his 27-year-old season, but Teixeira was established as a superstar at the time and it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would not re-sign with Rangers when the free agency reached a year and a half later.
Rangers, on deadline day in 2007, sent Teixeira to the Braves on a package that included Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz. It was a deal that paved the way for Rangers to win back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011, when they had never even won any before.
On the other hand, the Braves ended up trading Teixeira next term for Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer named Stephen Marek.
We can’t find exact matches here, as every circumstance is unique, but the Cabrera and Teixeira agreements at least provide us with a blueprint for how the future might unfold – wonderfully or unhappily – for those involved.
There are more facets to consider, of course.
The push of the small market
Look, say what you want about GM extraordinaire AJ Preller, but at least he’s trying to give the team everything he can to win right now. Manny Machado is in the fourth year of his 10-year contract, but he’s also 30 and enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. The Padres have a rotation that could end up taking them through October, but it also includes a 35-year-old Yu Darvish and a long history of arm injuries. Adding not only Soto, but also Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury, Preller is making an aggressive effort to win in 2022. To hell with the future. We will find out later.
It’s funny. How refreshing.
Anyone else tired of constantly hearing teams – or, more specifically, the property – cry poor? Is anyone else exhausted from all the “market” size hand spins? Does it bother you to see contending teams deal with important parts of their big league rosters and then inundate us with comments about their likelihood of making the playoffs?
The Padres and Preller are there for us. Aren’t you amused?
Soto’s potential free agency?
Now overly cautious front office types would immediately concern themselves with the status of Soto’s contract. Simply put, he’ll hit free agency after the 2024 season. Machado’s 10-year, $300 million contract runs through 2028. Fernando Tatis, Jr.’s 14-year, $340 million contract runs through 2028. until 2034 (!). It would surely take at least $500 million to lock Soto on an extension right now. The Padres probably don’t have the financial wherewithal to do that right now without seriously hampering their ability to field a winner in, say, 2026-28, do they?
I don’t think it matters right now, honestly. They now have a three-season potential playoff window with Machado, Soto and Tatis. Small-market clubs can build and rebuild and rebuild and never offer that kind of elite three-player window. It was a no-brainer for Preller to make this kind of bet to provide prospects for a sure thing for Soto, especially since – at 23 – he is the age of a lot of prospects anyway. (Orioles rookie receiver Adley Rutschman is older than him, just to put it into perspective.)
No matter how everything plays out, the paths of Padres and Nationals have been drastically altered with this trade. With how this move will impact the NL East, the NL West and the playoffs going forward – not just with Soto, but also Bell and the players who have gone their way to the Nationals – it’s a agreement that will be felt throughout the league for years. In fact, with Soto moving in this situation, it seems more likely that he will now hit free agency, which has an absolute impact on the rest of baseball.
We can, however, focus more on the short term at this time.
Padres still aren’t the best team, but…
Look, the Dodgers are going to win the NL West. They are deeper and have more overall talent than the Padres. I’m not sure anyone would argue with that, so let’s not do this straw man thing where we take to social media with nonsense like “the media declared the Padres champions on August 2!”
No, the Dodgers are still the best choice to win the NL with whoever wins the East next.
At the same time, the playoffs are becoming more of a roll of the dice as more and more teams qualify for October. Sometimes the best teams win it all (hi, Red Sox 2018 and Cubs 2016). Sometimes the teams with the fewest wins win the title, like the 2021 Braves with 88 wins. Sometimes it’s the 2019 Nationals, which seems like a relevant team for this discussion with Mr. Soto.
These Padres are considering a playoff rotation of Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea or Blake Snell. The bullpen will be anchored by Josh Hader. The lineup will have firepower in Soto, Machado, Tatis, Bell and Jake Cronenworth. They could bounce back in the first round, sure, but they’re absolutely a group that could catch fire at the right time and rush all the way to the title.
The San Diego Padres have never won the World Series, although both times they reached the Fall Classic they had the misfortune to face two of the American League’s all-time juggernauts – the Detroit Tigers in 1984 and the New York Yankees in 1998.
But it’s a new century, and there’s a confluence of factors here somewhere that has led Preller to take a turn without courage or glory. There’s the unique three-chance opportunity with a core positional player of Machado-Tatis-Soto as well as the knowledge that spitting prospects is a small price to pay for a 23-year-old superstar with Soto’s pedigree and the crap as MLB the playoffs can be these days.
The landscape-altering trade provided us with plenty of entertainment on trade deadline day and it will continue to do so in the future. It’s a deal we’ll all remember for decades, no matter how it plays out.