Image credit: Juan Soto (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
As soon as the Nationals made outfielder Juan Soto available on the trade market, it was clear the cost to acquire him would be enormous.
The Padres paid that massive cost to acquire him on Tuesday. The price they paid, and what the Nationals got in return, is without precedent in the last 30 years.
The Nationals received touted young lefthander MacKenzie Gore, three Top 100 Prospects in shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 11), outfielder Robert Hassell (No. 25) and outfielder James Wood (No. 62), fast-rising righthander Jarlin Susana and DH Luke Voit in exchange for Soto and first baseman Josh Bell. With a recently graduated Top 100 Prospect in Gore, three current Top 100 Prospects and another likely future Top 100 prospect in Susana, it is the largest trade haul since at least 1992.
One of the largest trades in recent history is the 2007 deal that saw the Marlins send Miguel Cabrera and Dontelle Willis to the Tigers. In return, the Marlins received two Top 100 Prospects in Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin as well as prospect righthanders Burke Badenhop, Dallas Trahern and Frankie De La Cruz and catching prospect Mike Rabelo.
Even that trade falls well short of what the Nationals acquired for Soto and Bell, and not just with the benefit of hindsight. Miller and Maybin were top 10 overall prospects at the time, but there were no young big leaguers in the deal and none of the other prospects acquired were in Top 100 consideration. De La Cruz ranked as the Tigers No. 6 prospect, Trahern ranked as their No. 8 prospect, Rabelo ranked as their No. 18 prospect and Badenhop ranked as their No. 22 prospect.
In sum, the Tigers trade included two Top 100 Prospects and no graduated big leaguers for Cabrera and Willis. The Padres traded a graduated young big leaguer, three Top 100 Prospects and another potential future Top 100 Prospect for Soto and Bell.
The recent deal that actually comes closest is the 2007 deadline trade between the Rangers and Braves for Mark Teixeira. For Teixiera and lefthander Ron Mahay, the Braves surrendered three Top 100 Prospects at the time in catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (No. 36), shortstop Elvis Andrus (No. 65) and lefthander Matt Harrison (No. 90). They also traded righthander Neftali Feliz, who made the Top 100 the following year, and lefthander Beau Jones, who ranked as the Braves No. 14 prospect.
For Teixeira, the Braves surrendered three Top 100 Prospects and a future Top 100 Prospect, similar to what the Padres traded for Soto. However, the Padres also included a graduated young big leaguer on top of that, which the Braves did not. Further none of the Braves prospects in the deal ranked in the top 25 overall on the BA Top 100, as Abrams and Hassell do.
There is another trade that involved three Top 100 prospects being moved—the Mets trade for Mike Piazza from the Marlins in 1998. For Piazza, the Mets traded lefthander Ed Yarnall (No. 60), outfielder Preston Wilson (No. 70) and lefthander Geoff Goetz (No. 96). Again, however, none of those prospects ranked in the top 50, whereas the Padres surrendered two prospects in the top 25 and another player in Gore who previously ranked that highly as a prospect.
There is another major trade that occurred before BA began producing Top 100 rankings. In 1984, the Athletics traded outfielder Rickey Henderson, rigththander Bert Bradley and cash to the Yankees for outfielder Stan Javier, righthands Jay Howell, Jose Rijo and Eric Plunk and lefthander Tim Birtsas,
Rijo ranked No. 1, Javier No. 2, Birtsas No. 3 and Plunk No. 5 in the Yankees system at the time. Howell was already an established big leaguer. Baseball America did not produce Top 100 lists until 1990, but if it did at the time, Rijo and Javier would have been clear Top 100 Prospects.
With an established big leaguer, two theoretical Top 100 Prospects and two other players who ranked among their team’s top five prospects in the deal, it comes close to what the Padres traded away for Soto and Bell.
It’s a similar story when it comes to headline trades for pitchers. In the wild card era (1995-present), the two largest trade hauls were the Royals’ return from the Brewers for Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt in 2010 and the Rays’ return from the Royals for James Shields and Wade Davis in 2012.
For Greinke and Betancourt in 2011, the Royals acquired Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. Cain and Escobar were two young big leaguers who had recently graduated from prospect status, Odorizzi was a Top 100 Prospect (No. 69) and Jeffress had previously been a Top 100 Prospect. The Brewers in essence traded four Top 100 Prospect-quality players for Greinke and Betancourt, but that’s still one fewer than the Padres traded for Soto and Bell.
For Shields and Davis in 2013, the Rays received Top 100 Prospects Wil Myers (No. 4), Mike Montgomery (No. 23) and Odorizzi (No. 92) as well as infield prospect Patrick Leonard. There were no young big leaguers in the deal and three Top 100 Prospects, again short of what the Nationals acquired.
In each case, the Nationals acquired more for Soto in terms of how the players were viewed at the time of the trade. There is no recent precedent for a team trading away as much as the Padres did, making it difficult to make direct historical comparisons.
Ultimately, time will tell whether the lofty prospect rankings attached to the young players the Nationals acquired for Soto and Bell end up being accurate.
But in terms of how the players were perceived at the time of the deal, the Nationals’ trade haul for Soto is the largest of at least the last 30 years.
HOW PREVIOUS HAULS TURNED OUT
There are no direct, recent historical comparisons for how much the Padres surrendered to acquire Juan Soto and Josh Bell, but there have been trades that came close. Here are how those turned out.
Dec. 4, 2007 – Marlins trade 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis to Tigers for LHP Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, RHP Burke Badenhop, C Mike Rabelo, RHP Frankie De La Cruz and RHP Dallas Trahern.
In Miller and Maybin, the Marlins received a pair of Top 10 Prospects in all of baseball, which is a higher top-end prospect haul than the Nationals received in this trade. In addition, De La Cruz was the Tigers No. 6 prospect in 2007, although he dropped to being the Marlins No. 18 prospect in 2008. Trahern was the Tigers’ No. 8 prospect in 2007 and Marlins No. 10 prospect in 2008. Rabelo was the Tigers No. 18 prospect in 2007, and Badenhop was the Tigers No. 22 prospect in 2007. That’s two top 10 prospects in baseball, as well as four others from the Tigers Top 30.
How Did It Turn Out: The Tigers got one of the steals of all time. While Miller ended up being an excellent reliever later on, he struggled as a starter with Florida and was eventually traded to the Red Sox for Dustin Richardson. Maybin was also soon shipped out of Miami in a modest trade after failing to live up to expectations. None of the players the Marlins received went on to star with the Marlins, while Cabrera remained one of the best players in baseball. He won a pair of MVP awards with the Tigers, led the league in batting four times, led the league in home runs once and made seven consecutive all-star teams.
Moncada ranked No. 2 in the Top 100 a month after this trade, so he was a more prominent prospect than any one in the Soto deal. Michael Kopech ranked No. 32 on the Top 100 that same year. Where this trade tails off is the rest of the package. Basabe ranked No. 8 on the White Sox list after the trade, but was never in Top 100 consideration. Diaz ranked No. 26th on the White Sox list that year, which was the only time he was ranked in a Top 30.
How Did It Turn Out: Sale was exceptional for the next two seasons in Boston, including playing a key role on the 2018 World Series champs. Since then he’s struggled with injuries. Moncada has had one great season (2019), one solid one (2021) and some inconsistent seasons in Chicago. Kopech was a valuable member of the White Sox’ bullpen in 2021 and has moved into the team’s rotation this year. His ERA is very good this year (3.19), but his FIP is not nearly as impressive thanks to a middling strikeout rate (7.3 K/9) and too many walks (4.3 BB/9). The other two players in the trade did not reach the majors for Chicago.
This trade included four Top 100 Prospects. Saltalamacchia ranked No. 36 on the Top 100 going into 2007, but was in the majors at the time of the trade. Andrus ranked 65th on the Top 100 going into 2007 and 19th going into 2008, so it’s reasonable to say he was a Top 35 prospect in baseball at the time of the trade. Feliz ranked 93rd on the Baseball America Top 100 in 2008 and climbed to No. 10 a year later. Harrison ranked No. 90 on the Top 100 prospects list heading into 2007. Jones ranked as the Braves No. 14 prospect going into 2007, but he never made a Rangers Top 30 after the trade.
How Did It Turn Out: This is an example of the team acquiring prospects conclusively winning the trade. Teixiera was great, but the Braves failed to make the playoffs in 2007. Just a year later, he was traded to the Angels for an extremely modest return (Casey Kotchman and Stephen Marek) at the trade deadline. In return, the Rangers picked up a long-time starting shortstop (Andrus), a closer (Feliz), a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher (Harrison) and a part-time catcher (Saltalamacchia). It’s fair to argue that the Rangers would not have made the World Series in 2010 and 2011 without this trade.
Years later, then-new A’s GM Sandy Alderson explained how important Baseball America was to this trade. He said years later that he wasn’t comfortable with the in-house evaluations they had of the Yankees farm system. So he decided to ask for the Yankees top five prospects as ranked by Baseball America. He had to settle for four of the top five. Rijo ranked No. 1, Javier No. 2, Birtsas No. 3 and Plunk ranked fifth. Howell was already an established big leaguer. Baseball America did not produce Top 100 lists until 1990, but if we had at the time, Rijo and Javier were clearly Top 100 Prospects.
How Did It Turn Out: As prospect returns go, this one was excellent. Rijo became a star, but in Cincinnati after he was shipped to the Reds for Dave Parker. Plunk had a long career as a useful reliever, but eventually he was sent back to New York in return for Henderson. Javier had a 17-year MLB career. Birtsas had a modest career as a reliever before being sent with Rijo to Cincinnati for Parker. None of the players the A’s received in return was a bust and four had lengthy MLB careers. But if you trade a star, it’s hard to win the trade. Henderson averaged over 7 bWAR per season during his four and a half seasons with the Yankees. He produced 76 bWAR after the trade before he retired at the end of an incredibly distinguished Hall of Fame career.
– J.J. Cooper