Juan Soto, the Hope Diamond of baseball
The Mets must exhaust the possibility of procuring Juan Soto as the trade door opens for the once-in-a-generation star
The time has come for legitimate conversations about stud sensation Juan Soto playing for a team other than the Washington Nationals.
Over the weekend, there were multiple reports Soto rejected a 15-year, $440 million contract offer from the Nationals, at which point Washington’s front office opened the door to trade offers for the young star.
That’s a lot of guaranteed money to turn away from. But from the player’s perspective it is understandable.
According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the proposed deal for Soto - which has an average annual value of $29.33 million - has escalating salaries over the life of the contract, which isn’t necessarily an unusual structure for contracts the organization has given out over the years. Often times, they’ve backloaded or deferred a bulk of the money in their deals in an effort to free up present-day funds. In turn, that lowers the present-day value of the deal for the player, even as the contract calls for salaries to rise over the life of the deal.
So again, the rejection is at least logical, whether one agrees with it or not.
It’s also worth noting the Lerner family is attempting to sell the Nationals, and locking Soto up could help to enhance it’s value ahead of a potential sale.
In the end, Scott Boras, Soto’s agent, declined to entertain this offer (and it is indeed massive, even if it’s no good for Soto), which has opened a path for Soto’s exit from Washington.
Simply put, Soto is a generational talent and a player any organization should be building around. The Nationals in large measure have stripped their major league roster down to the bone minus Soto, Josh Bell and Nelson Cruz, the latter of which are fully expected to be traded ahead of the August 2 trade deadline. But retaining Soto as a part of their rebuilding plan seemed both wise and sensible, albeit unlikely given the path the franchise has taken. After all, the probability of procuring equivalent value in trade at any point seems remote considering Soto is that generational talent.
Also, this isn’t like letting Harper go, which was badon it’s own since they had two young, generational talents hitting back-to-back in their lineup. At least the Nationals had Soto to fall back on without Harper and were able to win a World Series without him at that. The Nationals don’t have someone to fall back on now should they decide to trade Soto, thus trading Soto can set them much further back in their rebuilding process no matter what they get in return.
But these are the consequences of their errors with Harper and now seemingly Soto, who’s time appears to be growing shorter and shorter in Washington. It seems like they have little choice but to deal the superstar.
As such, the attention naturally turns to where Soto might end up. Pretty much every team should be knocking on Washington’s door for Soto - again, he is the kind player every team should be building around and building a brand around.
But not every team has the prospect power - or the financial resources - to trade for and sign Soto to a long-term deal, that which any team which entertains a trade for him has to do.
Why? Because Soto right now is the hope diamond in the sport - the prospect haul to get him could be the biggest ever.
The good news for the Mets is, they have both the prospect currency and the financial might to match up for a deal to procure Soto. And according to Andy Martino of SNY, the Nationals see the Mets as one of the few potential trade partners in this scenario.
Ok, so that’s good for the Mets, right? It depends on your perspective.
A key barrier for the Mets to break will be the intra-divisional issue with the Nationals. That could inflate their price, but that remains to be seen. Of course, the Nationals should take the best package of prospects available to them regardless of the asking team. None the less, that could be a problem.
In addition to that, the Mets do need to continue to build a strong pipeline to the big leagues so they become less reliant upon free agents. Yes, money solves problems but free agent deals tend to never end well. I have been saying this for years and for the most part, the Mets have done a pretty good job over the last ten years or so drafting/signing international free agents, developing, and graduating elite talent to the big leagues:
Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard (he was developed by the Mets, not drafted), Steven Matt, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Seth Lugo, Andrés Giménez (a 2022 All-Star, by the way), Pete Alonso, Luis Guillorme, just to name a few, and I’ll even throw in Matt Harvey since he was at the center of their pennant-winning season in 2015.
There are many other players they developed into credible major league players (Hello, Justin Turner) who have long since departed via trade or free agency.
And while I would say the Mets shouldn’t overpay for a rental as they did last year for Javier Báez, I am going to go on record now and say Soto is the exception to any normal trade scenario.
They need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Remember, Soto isn’t a rental. And even if this was his walk year, he couldn’t be considered a rental.
No team, whether it’s the Mets, Yankees, Rangers, Dodgers or otherwise can attempt to procure Soto with the idea he can ride out his arbitration years and walk as a free agent. Again, he’s a generational talent and a player every single team (including the Nationals) should want on their roster until he retires. And the cost in trade to get him would leave his new team no choice but to make every last effort to ensure Soto retires with them.
So, what might a trade scenario look like for the Mets?
First off, this goes nowhere without Francisco Álvarez. Plain and simple. Sorry!
Second, it might take two, if not three more of the Mets top six prospects for the Nationals to even consider entertaining a deal with them. Ronny Mauricio seems like a logical candidate for this package, as does Brett Baty. Would the Mets go further than that, sacrificing someone like Alex Ramirez or Matt Allan?
It’s worth noting the Mets had two first-round picks, four overall in the 2022 amateur draft on Sunday. They netted Kevin Parada, a sophomore catcher from Georgia Tech, with the 11th overall pick, and took Jett Williams, a high school shortstop, with the 11th overall pick. They also selected 21-year-old RHP Blade Tidwell from Tennessee and high school OF Nick Morabito in the subsequent rounds on day one of the draft.
On the other hand, the Mets have given up a lot over the last few years in trade and aside from Edwin Diaz, don’t have a lot to show for the thinning of their farm system.
Still, the Mets unquestionably enriched their farm system with four picks in the top 75 of the draft, which could potentially help offset the loss of other top prospects. They are operating from a strength in numbers coming out of this year’s draft, if nothing else.
But this isn’t easy for the Mets, or any team for that matter. Even if they know nobody they might have to give up to get Soto will match Soto’s value over the next ten years, at least.
The ultimate debate will come down to which path the Mets should follow. Should they walk the line with Alvarez, Baty, and their other top prospects and hold/continue to enrich the farm system while foregoing an opportunity to land Soto? Or, should they go all-in, break from the tide and surrender the top of their farm system for one of the best players on the planet?
It really isn’t as simple as that, as awesome as Soto is (and the Mets know how awesome Soto is).
But again, Soto is the exception to every norm in this sport. And the Mets - being among the richest teams in the sport and having the prospect currency to make among the biggest trades in the sport’s history - should exhaust the possibility of bringing this exception to New York. Even if they come up empty.
After all, why wouldn’t the Mets want the Hope Diamond of baseball in their possession? Especially if they have the ability to get it?