The Washington Nationals really might be trading Juan Soto, but it reportedly is not going to be cheap.
Multiple MLB teams have reportedly told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal that the Nationals are asking for four or five "youngsters," basically prospects or big leaguers with several years of team control left, in negotiations for Soto.
The Nationals have apparently signaled the price is non-negotiable, hence teams will have to choose to meet that price by the Aug. 2 trade deadline or try their luck later.
As I said on @FS1, multiple clubs saying Nats’ ask for Soto is 4 to 5 top youngsters, combo of prospects and major leaguers with low service time. Ten days from deadline, Nats aren’t negotiating, one exec says. A team either shows willingness to meet price, or Nats move on.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 23, 2022
The Nationals currently have Soto under team control through the 2024 season, so teams would be acquiring Soto for two and a half years unless they sign him to an extension, which would almost certainly be the richest contract in the history of baseball and possibly American sports.
Soto's trade drama began when he reportedly turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension offer from the Nationals, which was already bigger than Mike Trout's 12-year, $426 million contract, though the $29.3 million average annual value was notably lower than most players at Soto's level.
Of course the Nationals want that much for Juan Soto
The expected haul for the Nationals in a theoretical Soto trade was always going to be big, but Rosenthal's report adds some clarity to what we're dealing with.
The Nationals' focus on prospects or recently graduated prospects makes sense because they have legitimately no reason to get back competent major leaguers if those major leaguers are hitting free agency in the next three or so years.
By trading Soto, the Nationals would essentially be admitting they a) don't think they can re-sign Soto after the 2024 season and b) don't think they will be anywhere close enough to the playoffs for Soto to be a useful asset. So they're going to want players who can produce past 2024, at which point we're talking about players who haven't even hit salary arbitration yet.
While the quantity is established, the quality remains unclear. There is obviously a world of difference in value between, say, a top 10 prospect and a sophomore big-leaguer having a decent year, but both fit under that umbrella term of "youngsters." The Nationals are going to want major names in the prospect world.
The most recent trade remotely comparable to the Soto situation is probably the Mookie Betts deal, and that netted the Boston Red Sox a former top 100 prospect coming off a strong rookie season (Alex Verdugo), another top 100 prospect (Jeter Downs) and one more legitimate prospect (Connor Wong). Even then, though, Betts only had one more year of team control remaining and was four years younger than Soto is now.
If you want something closer, we're probably talking about Miguel Cabrera, who went to the Detroit Tigers in 2007 in exchange for a package of six prospects headlined by Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, both top 20 prospects at the time.
There is also the prospect of money, on both the Nationals' part and Soto's. The Nationals have reportedly considered packaging starting pitcher Patrick Corbin's contract into a Soto deal, which could significantly decrease the asking price because Corbin has a 5.66 ERA over the past three seasons and is still owed nearly $50 million over the next two seasons. Soto could also potentially decrease other teams' interest by turning down potential extension offers.
All of that makes a Soto trade very complicated. The only teams that are really going to be interested and capable are going to be large-market clubs with stocked farm systems. Fortunately for the Nationals, there are quite a few teams — the Los Angeles Dodgers, the New York Yankees, the New York Mets — that fit that bill, but this is all still easier said than done.