With free agents officially on the market, qualifying offers extended (and rejected), contract options exercised and/or declined and 40-man rosters whittled down, it’s almost time for the MLB offseason to really start heating up. Items No. 1-5 on everyone’s agenda involve the future home of Shohei Ohtani, but outside of that, there’s one story that figures to dominate headlines all winter long: Is Juan Soto on the trade block in San Diego?
As of right now, it sure seems like signs point to yes. The Padres are so cash-strapped they needed a short-term loan just to cover expenses down the stretch of the 2023 season, and ownership reportedly wants payroll cut by dozens of millions of dollars. The most efficient way to recognize those savings would be to deal the 25-year-old superstar, who’s a year away from free agency and set to make some $30 million through arbitration in 2024. Sure enough, recent reports state that the “belief throughout the industry” is that Soto will get dealt at some point over the next few months.
Assuming Soto is eventually on the move, where might he land? Just one year of team control likely limits his market to contenders only, but this is still one of the very best hitters in the sport just entering his prime; his market will be a robust one, and the title hopes of any number of franchises could hang in the balance. Let’s rank his top five most likely destinations.
Juan Soto trade destinations
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have the money, with just $142 million committed to next year’s payroll after cracking the $200 million mark in 2023. They have the urgency, coming off of an underwhelming 89-win seasons and second straight Wild Card exit. And they have the need, with Kevin Kiermaier’s free agency shifting Daulton Varsho to center field and opening up a hole in left — and a righty-heavy lineup crying out for a lefty presence in the middle. So why aren’t they higher on this list? Leaving aside whether the Jays have the stockpile of assets to win a bidding war for Soto, there remains the matter of whether they’d pony up without knowing whether the outfielder will bolt in free agency next winter.
4. New York Mets
Yes, the Mets don’t appear to have a clear path to contention in 2024, at least not with the current state of the starting rotation. But Steve Cohen and new GM David Stearns want a splash, and bringing in Soto — and getting the chance to sell him on your franchise for a year before he hits the market — would certainly qualify. Plus, New York is desperate for a corner outfielder alongside Brandon Nimmo and a lefty power source next to Pete Alonso. If anyone is willing to take this gamble and/or pay nearly half a billion to lock up Soto long-term, it’s Cohen, and it’s a very neat on-field fit as well.
3. Seattle Mariners
On paper, this makes a ton of sense. The Mariners are ready to contend right now, and they could very much use a jolt of offense — especially in an outfield corner. They also have the young, controllable pitching San Diego is likely to want in return. There’s just one question: Are Jerry Dipoto and John Stanton willing to be bold? Based on Dipoto’s comments at the end of the regular season and Stanton’s recent track record, the answer appears to be no. If we knew that Seattle was willing to make a big move, they’d move all the way up to 1B on this list. As things stand, though, it’s hard to see.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs, on the other hand, signaled their aggression by poaching Craig Counsell from the Brewers and handing him a record contract for a manager. They, too, are ready to win now, and they should have money to spend — and every reason to believe they can sell Soto on sticking around long-term. They also have the need, even if they manage to bring Bellinger back (Bellinger could play first base, with Pete Crow-Armstrong manning center and Soto, Seiyz Suzuki and Ian Happ handling DH duties on a rotating basis). We do have a little skepticism as to whether the Ricketts have the stomach for signing Soto next winter, however, which drops them below our top choice.
1. New York Yankees
Look, it just makes too much sense. If you could design a player to fit the Yankees’ current needs in a lab, it would be Soto, a lefty-hitting outfielder who would love to take aim at the Yankee Stadium short porch. There’s also the emotional argument: No team needs a vibe reset like New York after the way 2023 fell apart, and acquiring Soto would be the best way for Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman to convince fans and the baseball world that they’re willing to act like the Yankees. They also have a ton of young MLB (Clarke Schmidt, Michael King) and high Minors (Clayton Beeter, Drew Thorpe, Will Warren) pitching talent to get a deal done.