The Yankees have checked in with the Padres regarding the trade candidacy of Juan Soto, reports Andy Martino of SNY. Those discussions, which Martino unsurprisingly categorizes as “preliminary,” should be one of many calls that San Diego receives on the superstar outfielder in the weeks and months to come.
Teams are still prohibited from making trades, although there was never any chance of the Padres making such a monumental move this early in the offseason anyhow. Clubs can identify and discuss early targets in preparation for the reopening of the trade window, which occurs the day after the end of the World Series.
Speculation about Soto’s availability has lingered back to before the trade deadline. The scuffling Padres elected to buy over the summer, hoping those additions would combine with improved play out of their existing roster to push them back into contention. San Diego didn’t start winning consistently until it was too late, never erasing the deficit and finishing two games behind the Diamondbacks.
The underwhelming place in the standings alone was always going to reignite chatter about Soto’s availability. Adding fuel to the fire were various late-season reports that the Friars hoped to cut back spending. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune pegged the target figure around $200MM, which would be nearly $50MM south of this past season’s level. Even if the Padres don’t slice payroll to that extent, it seems clear they will be more austere this winter than they have in the past couple offseasons.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects Soto for a $33MM salary next year, his final season of arbitration eligibility. That’d easily top the $30MM record which Shohei Ohtani established last winter for an arb-eligible player, making Soto the highest-paid player on the San Diego roster. Yet even that lofty figure is well below the open market value for one prime-aged season of a player who is among the game’s five best hitters.
The three-time All-Star overcame a relatively slow start to turn in a characteristically excellent season. Soto hit .275/.410/.519, popping 35 home runs while leading baseball with 132 walks. Among batters with 500+ plate appearances, he ranked third in on-base percentage and 11th in slugging.
Soto would be a massive upgrade for any team in baseball. While that’ll make him a popular target, it would also make trading him a massive decision for the Padres. San Diego is going to make another push to compete in 2024. Removing Soto from the equation makes that quite a bit harder, even if they’re able to reallocate some of that payroll room into addressing a mediocre bottom of the lineup and/or filling a rotation that could lose each of Blake Snell, Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo to free agency.
Even if the Padres were fully determined to cut player spending to the $200MM range, they don’t have to trade Soto to make that happen. If Wacha, Lugo and Nick Martinez each hit free agency, the Friars would have around $127MM in salary commitments for next season. That doesn’t include Soto’s arbitration projection, which would push them near $160MM. Arbitration projections for Trent Grisham and Scott Barlow would nudge them past $170MM.
That may not leave a ton of space in the budget for free agent acquisitions — and they’ll certainly need to address the rotation in some form — but it doesn’t force their hand on a Soto trade specifically. Any of Grisham, Barlow or Ha-Seong Kim would have appeal if the Padres were to consider marketing them instead.
Martino suggests that Soto could be available if another team puts forth an appropriate offer, indicating the 25-year-old is not categorically untouchable. That aligns with comments from president of baseball operations A.J. Preller at the start of the offseason. At season’s end, Preller told reporters the organization would reengage Soto’s representation at the Boras Corporation about a potential extension (link via AJ Cassavell of MLB.com). Asked about the possibility of a trade if they can’t work out a long-term deal, San Diego’s baseball ops leader noted they’ve “never been a group that (rules out) anything” before reiterating that their “first path” would be a chat with Soto’s camp about a contract.
If the Padres get to a point this offseason in which they’re seriously entertaining a Soto blockbuster, the Yankees are one of a number of teams that could be involved. New York is as good a fit as any given their willingness to spend at the top of the league and a need to address left field. Every team with payroll room would have room on the roster for Soto, although only teams with a legitimate path to contention in 2024 are plausible suitors to top the trade market for a player one year from free agency. The Yankees are the first of many teams that are likely to be mentioned in Soto rumors during the offseason.