Image credit: Juan Soto (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Soto, 25, is estimated to receive a salary of $30 million or more in his final year of arbitration in 2024. The Padres, following the collapse of their broadcast deal with Bally Sports San Diego and resulting revenue losses, are looking to cut payroll around 20% to $200 million. With eight players—Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Fernando Tatis Jr., Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, Jake Cronenworth, Ha-Seong Kim and Robert Suarez—set to make more than $115 million alone and a roster full of holes, trading Soto is the most efficient way for the Padres to meet their dual needs of cutting payroll and filling the out the roster.
That said, the Padres won’t trade Soto without getting considerable talent back. Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller has long been enamored with Soto, and the Padres paid a historically high price to acquire him. The team intends to contend in 2024 and won’t trade him unless it makes sense from a baseball perspective, not just a salary perspective.
See where the top prospects in baseball ranked at the end of the minor league season.
The Padres have three clear needs: starting pitching, first base and center field. Any Soto trade that doesn’t fill one or more of those needs would be impractical for the organization, and likely would not be accepted by the team. Any potential trade partner would have to match the Padres needs and be willing to pay a high price, even with Soto only under team control for one more year. If they don’t, the Padres are content to simply keep him.
Given the level of talent needed to acquire Soto and the payroll space required to absorb his salary, only a few teams actually have what’s needed to pull off a deal.
Here are five teams who realistically have the pieces to trade for Soto, as well as the means to pay him.
Realistically, this won’t happen. The Dodgers are saving their money for a run at Shohei Ohtani, and the Padres aren’t going to trade one of their best hitters to a hated rival they’re trying to chase down in the National League West. From a pure talent perspective, however, the Dodgers have the most to offer the Padres and can blow away any other team’s trade package. Bobby Miller likely isn’t going anywhere, but Ryan Pepiot, Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone, Nick Frasso and Landon Knack lead a deep group of major league-ready or nearly-ready young starters to choose from. Slugger Michael Busch, meanwhile, is blocked in the Dodgers organization and needs to go somewhere he can play first base (like San Diego). Add in a deep group of power arms at the lower levels of the minors and an exciting collection of young Latin American talent coming out of the DSL—a favorite Preller demographic—and the Dodgers can offer the Padres more than any other team if they are inclined.
The Dodgers and Yankees were the top two systems in terms of minor league Statcast hitting data in 2023.
The Yankees check all the boxes in a potential trade partner for Soto. They have money to spend, desperately need an impactful lefthanded hitter and have the prospect talent to make a compelling offer. While outfielder Jasson Dominguez will be tough to part with, righthanders Chase Hampton and Drew Thorpe, outfielders Everson Pereira and Spencer Jones and current catcher (but likely future first baseman) Austin Wells are all Top 100 Prospects who have reached Double-A or higher and match up well with the Padres needs. Various combinations involving one or two of them and some of the Yankees’ considerable lower-level talent would make for a compelling offer that few teams could beat.
The Mariners have had three straight 88-plus win seasons and have backfilled their farm system impressively quickly following the graduations of Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh and others. Righthanders Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo would be compelling toppers in a potential trade package for Soto, although Miller would be especially tough to part with. Beyond them, the Mariners system is flush with talented young position players, including Top 100 Prospects Harry Ford, Cole Young and Tyler Locklear as well as young international signees Lazaro Montes, Michael Arroyo and Felnin Celestin. Between their young pitchers, Top 100 Prospect position players and young Latin talent, and the Mariners have plenty of intriguing trade combinations they can offer for Soto.
The Phillies are more limited in what they can offer, but they have enough pieces to get a deal done. Center fielder Brandon Marsh may be too big of an ask for one year of Soto and top prospect Andrew Painter likely isn’t going anywhere, but a deal topped by fellow young center fielder Johan Rojas and Top 100 Prospect righthander Mick Abel makes for an intriguing start. The Phillies can offer up plenty of complementary pieces to sweeten a deal, from Top 100 Prospect outfielder Justin Crawford to hard-throwing righthander Griff McGarry to any of young international shortstops Starlyn Caba, Bryan Rincon and William Bergolla. While the Phillies payroll commitments are already considerable, owner John Middleton has shown a willingness to spend in pursuit of a championship, and the possibility of a lineup with Soto, Marsh and Nick Castellanos in the outfield, Bryce Harper at first base and Kyle Schwaber at DH is tantalizing.
Here are the 10 best players in Philadelphia’s system, complete with brand new scouting reports.
Trading Soto within the division isn’t ideal, but reservations with the Giants aren’t the same as they are with the Dodgers. The Giants aren’t particularly flush with young talent, but they have a select few players who match up well with the Padres’ needs. Lefthander Kyle Harrison and center fielder Luis Matos are talented young big leaguers who can each anchor a potential trade package and help fill the Padres’ holes, while Mason Black, Carson Whisenhunt, Hayden Birdsong, Keaton Winn and Carson Seymour lead an interesting collection of young pitchers to choose from as secondary pieces. Even without including shortstop Marco Luciano or catcher Patrick Bailey, the Giants have enough to get a deal done if other teams don’t make their best offers.
The Cubs are a potential landing spot, but it will be hard to land Soto without including top pitching prospect Cade Horton, which they are not inclined to do. They do have an interesting collection of outfielders and pitching prospects in the minor leagues that would make for a compelling trade offer, but many other teams can beat their best offers by including young players with Triple-A and major league experience.
The Red Sox and Mets have been mentioned as potential trade partners for Soto, but neither team has the personnel to match what other teams can offer. The Mets could build an offer around young third baseman Brett Baty, but they lack the young pitching the Padres desperately need. The Red Sox similarly don’t have the volume of high-level talent necessary to acquire Soto unless they include first baseman Triston Casas or righthander Brayan Bello in a deal, which isn’t going to happen for one year of Soto.
The Orioles, Guardians, Brewers and Rays all have the combination of talented young big leaguers and prospects to acquire Soto, but their payroll restrictions make it highly unlikely they’ll acquire him.