The Soto Trade and Unbuyers Remorse

After the Washington Nationals traded Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres for a haul of prospects I began to regret the Cardinals not making that deal. Imagine this lineup:

RF (L) Soto

1B (R) Goldschmidt

DH (S) Bell

3B (R) Arenado

2B (L) Donovan

CF (S) Carlson

LF (L) Nootbaar

C (R) Molina

SS (S) Edman

As MLBTradeRumors noted, Bell is no throw-in. "Bell also brings strong bat-to-ball skills to the table. He’s striking out in only 14% of his trips this season, his lowest rate since his rookie year and markedly below the league average. Bell has paired that with quality plate discipline manifesting in an 11.2% walk rate and an overall .302/.384/.493 line." Playing first base he has produced 3.6 bWAR with average defense. To compare, Paul Goldschmidt in an MVP-caliber season has produced 5.1.

I began to wonder how the Cardinals trade package compared to the Padres. Over the weekend I've been reading around sites like Fangraphs (hereafter FG) and the above MLBTradeRumors (TR), and been playing on BaseballTradeValues (BTV). Those will be my primary resources, along with BaseballReference, warts and all.


To begin with TR listed the players San Diego traded as follows. I have placed in brackets FG's prospect values for each:

C.J. Abrams, 21.6 yo MLB 2B [60]

Robert Hassell III, 20.8 yo A+ RF [50]

MacKenzie Gore, 23.2 yo MLB SP (Injured) [50]

James Wood, 19.7 yo A-ball CF [50]

Jarlin Susana, 18.2 yo R-ball SP [40+]

Luke Voit, 31.5 yo MLB 1B

Let's presume for a moment that the Cardinals wanted to trade for both Soto and Bell and offer a comparable trade package. Here's a likely bunch:

Jordan Walker, 20.1 yo AA 3B [60] three out of these five 50-value prospects/young MLBers:

Ivan Herrera, 22.1 yo MLB C [50]

Nolan Gorman, 22.1 yo MLB 2B/3B [50]

Matt Liberatore, 22.7 yo MLB SP [50]*

Masyn Winn, 20.3 yo AA SS/RHP [50]

Gordon Graceffo, 22.3 yo AA SP [50] one of six prospects FG lists as 40+:

Tink Hence, 20 yo A-ball RHP

Zach Thompson, 24.7 yo MLB LHP

Alec Burleson, 23.6 yo AAA 1B/OF

Andre Pallente, 23.8 yo MLB RHP

Michael McGreevy, 22 yo AA SP

Jonathan Mejia, 17.2 yo Rookie-Ball SS

In addition, they would have to provide a comparable option to Voit playing 1B. As we shall see, Voit's trade value itself may be considered negligible, but his inclusion after San Diego 1B Eric Hosmer invoked his no-trade clause is an important window into what Nationals President/GM Mike Rizzo was looking to receive from the Padres.

Some notes on the Cardinals players listed above.

  1. Dylan Carlson was not included on the presumption that Rizzo definitely wanted top prospects, and the Cardinals stated that they would not include Carlson along with them;
  2. Since the Nationals already have catching prospect Keibert Ruiz as their primary catcher, and since the Cardinals must plan for Molina's almost certain retirement, let's remove Ivan Herrera from consideration as one of the 50 value prospects;
  3. The Nationals apparently stated that they don't consider Matt Liberatore as highly as some (presumably the Cardinals front office) do. I've placed an asterisk next to his value to remind us of this;
  4. In general, the Cardinals and their minor league affiliates are stronger on the position side than the pitching side. So they would prefer to trade position players and keep pitchers. I would think of the 50-value players they would lean toward keeping one of Liberatore or Graceffo, and the second group to trade away either Burleson or Mejia--all other things being equal;
  5. Jonathan Mejia, of whom I know nothing, is the Cardinals major signing in this year's international free agent period.
Now let's compare some San Diego and Cardinals prospects side-by-side without so much consideration to FG valuation.
  1. SD's Abrams shares many qualities with the Card's Masyn Winn. Both play the middle infield, have good hit tools, middling power, and run the bases. Abrams is a year older and in the majors instead of AA, so if Winn makes it to the bigs next year Washington's window to use both players are about a year apart;
  2. SD's Gore and STL's Liberatore compare similarly. Both have debuted at the MLB level this year, are about the same age and value according to FG. Although Washington has alleged Liberatore not to have as much value as others might think, Gore is injured, and I don't know if they don't think similarly of him, too;
  3. For the most part all the Cardinals players are older and play at higher levels than the three remaining (former) SD prospects Hassell, Wood, and Susana, none of whom are over 21 or play above High A. I take this to mean that while the former players may have lower ceilings, the latter have speculative, unproven value and their major league impact is less certain.
At this point I'm looking at the SD haul and thinking the Cardinals can easily beat this. Gorman alone has already produced 1.2 bWAR while striking out 1/3 of the time, whereas SD's two MLB prospects Abrams and Gore have combined for only .3 bWAR. This does not mean he is or will be better than either or both of these players, but that he's demonstrated his value at the major league level, and his likely outcomes are more predictable. All of the Cardinals prospects play at or above the advanced minors so have slimmer error bars, too. Based upon this assessment, I would feel offering Walker, Gorman, Winn, Liberatore and Burleson easily compares to and beats SD's package.

Now let's use another tool at BaseballTradeValues. I know nothing of this site, but apparently they calculate the dollar value of expected future production for each player, compare that to the money the are or will be owed (including projected arbitration numbers), and determine a surplus or deficit by adding the two.

First, here are the values both the Nationals and Padres received from the actual trade according to the site:

PADRES VALUE (median outcome in $millions)
Soto +165.6
Bell +5.7
TOTAL +171.3

Abrams +47.1
Hassell +38.7
Gore +29.6
Wood +25.6
Susana +2.5
Voit -0.5
TOTAL +143.0

Right away, we see that the Nationals are short over $28 million dollars in value. With these values at the very least they should not have offered Bell, and should also have demanded another prospect (note also Voit has negative value--for the Padres he's been worth .7 bWAR, not worth the $5.45 million he's earning this year). Furthermore, compare these to the Reds haul for Luis Castillo, a trade early in the deadline which had many thought would set a sellers market:

Mariners VALUE
Castillo $41.2

Marte +36.5
Arroyo +22.8
Stoudt +3.7
Moore +0.1
TOTAL +63.1

Instead of the deficit the Nationals received, the Reds returned a premium over 50% of Castillo's value on this site.

Now let's see how BTV's valuations sees the prospect package I initially thought the Cards might offer:

Walker +61.6
Gorman +51.2
Winn +25.5
Liberator +24.3
Burleson +19.4
TOTAL +182

Yup. My package would have overpaid the Nationals by over $10 million, and beat the Padres by a whopping $39. For what I was about to offer--again, according to this site's valuation--I could have nearly received an additional Castillo in return. Amazingly, though, what stopped talks between the Nationals and Cardinals was removing Carlson, valued by BTV at $75.5 million, along with other top prospects. Given Rizzo's previous statement that he was looking for at least five players, two MLB-ready, that narrows what he was looking for from St. Louis. But something like this:

Carlson +75.5
Gorman +51.2
Winn +25.5
Burleson +19.4
Hence +11.4
TOTAL +183

Which has similar BTV value. So what happened? Was Rizzo fixated on Carlson and either Walker or Gorman, and decided to end talks when he couldn't get both? Then did he panic and accept a lesser package from the Padres rather than get nothing? Did he miscalculate and bluff with Mozeliak? Or (more likely) were the Nationals value-calculations simply different than those available to us? Hard to tell.


My conclusion from all of this is that given what the Nationals actually accepted for Soto and Bell, the Cardinals could have matched or beat the Padres package with less than what the Nationals, in all likelihood, demanded over the weekend. Gorman and Liberatore compare favorably to Abrams and Gore as MLB-ready prospects. The Cardinals prospects are more advanced than what SD offered. So my pitch to Rizzo would be to take my higher floor prospects instead of gambling on the speculative dreams the Padres offer.

Given Mozeliak's ear, I say getting Soto means you're not counting on resigning him (this, IMO, is what scuttled Cards-Nationals trade talks more than the Carlson trade). You're giving up the prospects he would be playing with during an extension, so this move is about making the next three seasons count. Don't give up players helping the big club and don't sell pitching the team needs.

With that in mind, I'm definitely trading Burleson in the Soto package. He's blocked and doesn't play the defense we need to succeed. I'm going to try to sell Rizzo that he's one of the two who's MLB ready based upon his year in Memphis.

I'm low on trading current pitching like Liberatore, Thompson, Pallante--anyone I project might help during the Soto years. That probably includes Graceffo and McGreevy, but not Hence.

I'm open to trading Gorman, who's helping the big league club, but is blocked by Arenado, Edman, Donovan. I've got to give Rizzo someone who can play in the majors now, and if both Rizzo disdains Liberatore, that means his buddy Gorman's probably gone.

If I'm not trading Carlson with Gorman, I have to consider trading Walker. Walker is also blocked and he's not playing with the big-league club, which meets two of my criteria. The only reason I would hesitate is because I might believe he's the next Soto. A small chance of the next Soto for 2023-2029, or the real one for 2022-2024? Let's say I pick the latter.

Winn is not a sure call-up this year or the next, so as exciting as he is doesn't fit these criteria. He goes, too.

My package, with their valuations:

Walker 60 61.6
Gorman 50 51.2
Winn 50 25.5
Burleson 40+ 19.4
Hence 40+ 11.4
Yepez mlb 6.9
TOTAL 138.7

I'm offering three (including Burleson) MLB-ready players, two AA players with higher floor than SD's players, and Hence. This package is less than SD's by both FG and BTV, but I'm flexible on Bell. I need CF help more than I need a DH this one year. I'm open to taking back Lane Thomas (BTV value -1.4 on Bell) or Robles (BTV -4.8), or simply take Soto alone, depending upon how persuasive I am. Or I would be happy to replace Yepez with new SS Jonathan Mejia (BTV 5.6) or OF Joshua Baez (BTV 4.6), or even add one or both, depending on what I get back.

I'm pretty comfortable with the basics of the deal. Yepez, Mejia, and Baez are the wiggle-room on the Cards side, and Bell, Thomas, Robles on the other. If Rizzo turns his nose on that then I do what Mo did, and leave the table.


1900 words, so I'll pack it in.