Though nothing is certain at this point, you can feel safe betting that Juan Soto will be traded this winter. The Padres are looking to lower their payroll after another disappointing finish and the 25-year-old star has just one year remaining on his rookie deal. Getting cheaper and younger is the goal, and there will be plenty of teams willing to bid for Soto’s services.
One of those is the Cubs, who Bruce Levine reported Friday “will be heavily involved in the trade sweepstakes” for Soto. How they will make room for the outfielder is a valid question, though it’s not one that needs to be answered prior to acquiring him. It is something that will have to be figured out eventually because the Cubs have both corner outfield spots locked up and Soto has played almost exclusively in right and left.
Soto is an absolute monster, a lefty slugger who mashed 35 homers while walking more than he struck out en route to a .410 OBP last season. Since he debuted in 2018 as a 19-year-old, no one else is within 135 of Soto’s insane 640 walks. His 19.0% walk rate is the highest in the game over that span by a full three percentage points over Mike Trout and Soto’s .421 OBP outpaces Trout by five points.
Soto falls behind a little because other players have bested his .946 career OPS, but his 160 homers rank 17th over the last six seasons and he’s struck out 63 fewer times than he’s walked. He’s on the short list of the best players in baseball and he’s still years away from being at his athletic prime.
The only question is what it’ll be worth for a team to acquire him knowing he’s aiming for a monster contract in free agency after next season. Some believe it’s only worth trading for him if you can extend him, but then you’re giving up prospects and a boatload of money. Of course, a team like the Cubs that needs star power and has a fair bit of prospect depth might view the risk as being worth the reward even for just one year.
When trading for someone with limited control, the prospect cost can be viewed in two different ways. If the acquiring team is able to work out an extension, that cost is justified by being able to have the player in question for an extra year while also keeping him off the market. Even if his tenure lasts just one year, making a huge impact on his team’s success could justify the expense.
Okay, so what would that cost include for the Cubs? Levine noted that “numerous opposing teams” have inquired about Christopher Morel, who has been a man without a position thus far and may be again if the Cubs address third base externally. According to Levine’s sources, the Padres “are high on Morel.” At just 24 and with five more years of control, Morel is the kind of player who could headline a blockbuster deal.
It’ll take more than that, however, and just how much will depend on the amount of Soto’s projected $33 million salary the Padres are willing to eat. If we assume Pete Crow-Armstrong and Cade Horton are off the table in trade discussions, any ask is probably going to include Owen Caissie or Kevin Alcántara. James Triantos has been tearing up the Arizona Fall League so far, but he’s another guy who doesn’t really have a solid spot and may have been displaced to an extent by recent draft pick Matt Shaw.
The Cubs have quite a few young pitchers if the Padres are looking to round out the return, so it’s a matter of whether they’re looking for more immediate impact (Ben Brown) or a longer-term option (Michael Arias, Jackson Ferris). I’m not making a proposal so much as I’m throwing out some names that will draw interest. While it shouldn’t take Morel and three top-10 prospects to get a deal done, swinging a trade for an elite player is going to sting.
Things are going to get very, very interesting once the offseason opens up.
Ed. note: I wasn’t very clear on this above, so I wanted to take a moment to tighten things up a bit when it comes to the potential cost from the Cubs’ perspective. Working with Morel as the foundation, there would probably be one top-10 guy and then it’s a sliding scale based on whether and how much of Soto’s salary the Padres are eating.