Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic shook up the baseball world last weekend when he reported that Juan Soto rejected a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals and as a result the team was going to field offers for the phenom. Soto is a once in a generation talent, who at 23 years old is widely viewed as one of the three best players in the game. Despite his young age Soto already has two top five MVP finishes to his name as well as two Silver Sluggers and 118 home runs and counting. There’s no question Soto is going to be one of the faces of Major League Baseball for the next decade plus, and players of this caliber are not made available in any way all that often.
What would it cost?
Cardinals acquire: Juan Soto and Patrick Corbin
Nationals acquire: Jordan Walker, Tyler O’Neill, Juan Yepez, Masyn Winn and Dakota Hudson
According to baseballtradevalues.com, a website which uses an algorithm to determine the trade values of every Major League player, as well as the majority of minor league players, calculates this as a slight overpay by the Cardinals. Although, I think most people will say the Cardinals very well might have to give up another piece or two to truly get this deal over the finish line. Now, if this is all it would cost to get Soto it is a more than palatable deal. The Cardinals would be trading their first and fourth best prospects, but they would also be trading two young MLB players in O’Neill and Yepez, as well as a back end of the rotation pitcher in Hudson.
Walker is the centerpiece of this deal and a must-inclusion in any trade for Soto. MLBPipeline’s seventh overall prospect, Walker is tearing it up in Double-A this season. Walker is hitting .304 to go along with eight home runs, 21 doubles and 74 strikeouts. The Cardinals very well might view the inclusion of Walker as something that prevents them from even entering the discussions to acquire Soto but including him should cause less hesitation than most would expect. Walker has the ceiling of a perennial All-Star who could contend for an MVP at his peak, which at the end of the day is still below Soto’s level as a player. The Cardinals also have a rather crowded infield that will feature the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Tommy Edman and Nolan Gorman for years to come.
In trading O’Neill, the Cardinals are almost trading a lottery ticket style of player despite the fact he is already 27 years old and in his fifth MLB season. To this point four of O’Neill’s five seasons with the Cardinals have been rather disappointing, with three of them resulting in seasons where he posted an xBA at or below .215, as well as having an xWOBA of .316 or lower in all four of those seasons. However, O’Neill had an outlier season last year where he posted an xBA of .279, xSLG of .582 and an xWOBA of .392 where he hit 34 home runs. If the Nationals think they can rediscover that version of O’Neill, then he is also a player who is a must inclusion. St. Louis could instead opt to add Dylan Carlson over O’Neill, which might lessen the cost of other players in the deal; although, I have a difficult time envisioning the organization opting to include the younger and more talented player.
Winn is not a player who is going to light it up at the dish as he only has 12 career minor league home runs over 683 career at-bats. The former first rounder does need to work on his strikeouts a bit as in that time frame he has posted 171 total K’s. Although his fielding, running and arm all received 60 grades or better from MLB Pipeline. Even with Winn likely to be a below average hitter at his peak, his three plus to plus plus tools are going to allow him to carve out some time of big-league career.
In Yepez, the Nationals would get a player who has rather underwhelming analytics to this point in his young major league career. Despite his struggles though Yepez is a player who is only a year removed from hitting .290 to go along with 22 home runs in 304 at bats for the Cardinals AAA affiliate. Yepez is not a groundbreaking trade chip, but he still provides the Nationals with a safe player who can step in right away and be a Major League contributor which is something they are reportedly looking for in a Soto deal.
Hudson is a throw-in piece who the Nationals are simply going to hope that they can unlock something out of the former top prospect. Hudson has struggled mightily this season posting an xERA of 5.48. In his only other full season with the big-league club in 2019, he posted an xERA of 5.09. Hudson does not have any spin rates or movement that makes him an overly enticing option, but teams do like to take chances on former top prospects.
Should the Cardinals do it?
This is an expensive price to pay for the Cardinals seeing as they would be giving the seventh best prospect in the league, their fourth best prospect, two controllable major league hitters as well as a back end of the rotation pitcher. Although, as discussed above Soto is a once in a generation talent and these types of players simply do not become available often. Acquiring Corbin and the remaining $59+ million is a massive downside of the deal but it prevents the Cardinals from having to give up more in player capital in the deal. The most prohibitive part of this trade though may not even be Corbin or who the Cardinals would be giving up, it instead might be the contract that would have to be given to Soto. The two-time All-Star turned down the largest contract in pro sports history, and he reportedly is seeking something in the Max Scherzer range of $43 million a year. An extension would likely come in at around an eye-watering 12 years and $500 million. So, yes, the Cardinals should do it.
Goldschmidt only has two years left on his deal and Arenado only has three years left before his number drops down below $30 million. If the Cardinals want to, they can make this deal work.