ST. LOUIS — Credit: Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports
Juan Soto is the greatest baseball player of all time.
Or, so Twitter tells us. At the age of 23, the soon not-to-be (or could not be) Washington National is on the cusp of a big trade this summer, one that would land him with a new team for the next two and a half seasons. In those crucial 390-ish games, Soto will set himself up for a windfall of a deal. Something he wasn’t quite ready for in Washington, where he recently rejected a $440 million, 15-year deal. It would keep him in D.C. until he was legally 81 years old, or something.
It was that rejection that set off this firestorm of early hot stove trade talk involving Washington and a handful of teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals. Knowing it will cost an arm, leg and thigh of prospects, one would easily assume the team would be out. But these aren’t phony outlets/Twitter accounts like cardinals *underscore* live or mlb_leaks_nothing. National outlets are saying the team has talked to Soto’s reps, just like I am sort of talking to you right now about it.
Get it. These talks are so preliminary, it’s nearly incendiary to get too deep into the rabbit hole about this potential deal. It is going to cost Jordan Walker, Matthew Liberatore, Masyn Winn, Liberatore’s aunt, Dylan Carlson and maybe a couple more guys. Whether you like the idea of losing 5-6 players for one, you aren’t just getting any slice of Juan Soto cake here, ladies and gents; you’re getting the gooey butter center.
Age 23-26 can be the juicy steak center for a young superstar player. From ages 23-26, Albert Pujols maintained a 1.102 OPS. Insane. Soto’s lifetime OPS is .968, but he’s only entering that phase. It’s which team he will complete the dance with-one that ultimately lands in a deal, or another new jersey fitting.
The Soto sweepstakes have officially taken over half the attention in St. Louis, with the Blues’ potential pursuit of Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk keeping the flame strong west of 14th Street. But the Soto talk sings louder at the moment due to the chaotic Cards’ short deficit for first place. They are only a half-game behind Milwaukee, with a very soft second half schedule awaiting them.
What if Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak greeted returning franchise legend, Yadier Molina, back to the team with Soto patrolling the outfield at Busch Stadium? A surreal thought has become less so during the past 72 hours. Then again, it’s still very far-fetched. Think about it.
The Cardinals always play trade targets close to the chest, refusing to publicly sway their notions or goals to the public. They play everything off to the press, so who has the intel that they are more than “interested?” I mean, I am interested in interviewing The Rock and prying a "Battlehawks or not” answer out of him, but a proper cheat day diet will probably be all I get.
Mozeliak and company are ninjas when it comes to this stuff. They also refuse to trade a boatload of young prospects-including a large amount of controllable years of service-for just anybody? This isn’t like Carson Kelly for Paul Goldschmidt, or Nolan Arenado for a group of “who” guys packing their bags for Colorado. This isn’t Brett Wallace for Matt Holliday.
Soto will cost Jordan Walker, a future third baseman-type. He will cost a top end of the rotation starter in Liberatore. It will take Winn, the guy on pace to be the starting shortstop someday. It will take a rising star in Carlson, who is enjoying a productive-yet-injury-plagued sophomore season, following an impressive rookie campaign. It will cost another top 10 prospect in the team’s farm system.
The Nationals don’t have to do anything. Keep that in mind. The pressure they feel sits on the other end of the spectrum of the pressure I feel around New York style pizza. Soto could be enjoying an authentic version of that if he finds himself shipped to the Bronx.
The Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, and New York Mets are also dance partners for the southpaw slugger. The sky's the limit, but no one really knows where he will land.
Would I do it for all of those players?
Would it be wise to send all that team control to Washington for a guy who could bolt to the Dodgers and join Jack Flaherty on the Dodgers in 2025?
Yes, I would make that trade. No, it wouldn’t be the wisest of notions, nor would it sit close to illogical estimations either.
Yesterday afternoon, I rejected this notion of giving up so much for Soto--but then I remembered that prospects are golden nuggets to hold onto… when there is a Juan Soto available. As Don Draper would say, that's what the money (or prospects) are for!
Think about the potential losses. Walker is blocked by Arenado and Goldschmidt, and the outfield isn’t exactly NOT crowded. He’s potentially a stud, but Soto is already a stud. He's not searching for that hard-to-find road map; Soto has got it. The other two (older) players are still studs.
Winn could be a good shortstop, or he could be the next Pete Kozma. Carlson compiled a fine .780 OPS in his first season and is bouncing back after an IL stint, but is he going to ever rank in the top 10 for MVP during his MLB career? Soto has already done that-ranked in the NL MVP Top 10-three times. The other prospect could pan out to be a perfect Andrew Miller clone, or he could be Brett Cecil after arriving in St. Louis.
Nobody knows, but everybody likes to act like they can tell the future. The Cardinals are drafting much better these days, pulling in all kinds of electric college talent in this latest draft. Are those guys not going to be potential top ten organization prospects? Would losing Walker, Winn, Liberatore, and company just destroy the future? A few years maybe, but what if the team is celebrating its 12th World Series during that slight rebuild?
I’m into it. I’m into the Cardinals doing dangerous things and making waves. It reminds me of the all or nothing Walt Jocketty days of midseason magic. It reminds me of what Doug Armstrong did in order to secure the St. Louis Blues’ first Stanley Cup. He went out on a limb, dangling young talent and potential to other cities. It worked out. Mozeliak and Girsch could be playing that game. It’s the game Cardinal Nation has wanted them to play.
“They don’t spend.” Wrong. The Cardinals really do break out the plastic these days, hence the “most years” $160 plus payroll. Hence the big contracts for Arenado and Goldschmidt. Look at the stretch in presenting Miami with the best package for Giancarlo Stanton’s services, only for him to shoot it down. They wanted David Price badly, and got outbid by a small, indie operation called the Boston Red Sox. St. Louis offered Jason Heyward more money than the Cubs, but he chose Chicago. (Thanks, dude.)
They also spend unwisely too often, and have watched young, game-changing talent thrive elsewhere. St. Louis has seen players who could have been Cardinals do great things in other places. Trading for Soto would be acquiring arguably the best player in the game-at least the league-to join your franchise legends and make a mad dash for the World Series--this year as well as 2023 and 2024. That is exciting, and definitely not mundane.
I would make that trade. Soto isn’t a Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Carlson, Tommy Edman or moderately talented player. He’s a generational talent. A guy who changes things. No, he can’t pitch six to seven innings, or just handle the seventh and eighth, but he can hit enough home runs to make the other team harder to see on the scoreboard.
To Soto or not Soto? I’d like to Soto the night away, even if it is costly and dangerous. You could get the sweetest years, but lose a lot of great years and cornerstone moments after he bolts. However, maybe the team doesn’t have to pay for the not-so-legendary seasons of Juan Soto if he runs off to the Yankees to Lebron a World Series title with Aaron Judge and Stanton. They hunt for #12 for three seasons, and that’s it.
I can live with it. After a day of back-and-forth--this doesn’t affect any of us, yet we let it affect our daily lives--I have come to understand that you may never get to see a Cardinals team with Molina, Adam Wainwright, Pujols, Arenado, Goldschmidt and Soto ever again.
That’s worth it. Just do yourself a favor and don’t expect it, at least until nobody is talking about it. That’s when St. Louis likes to strike. Crouching Bow Tie, Hidden Wallet.
I wouldn't hold my breath, but this isn't fiction anymore.