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Smash Or Pass: Juan Soto

Can the Red Sox swing a deal for a generational superstar?

San Diego Padres v Chicago White Sox Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Who is he and where does he come from?

In July of 2015 the Washington Nationals made the best decision in franchise history by signing 16-year-old Juan Soto out of the Dominican Republic. He signed for what was, at the time, the largest bonus ever given out to an international signee by the Nationals: $1.5 million. Being the best decision the Nationals ever made is no small claim, because this is the same franchise that drafted Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009 and Bryce Harper first overall the following year.

Just three years after signing, Soto rocketed through the minor leagues to debut in 2018. The following season, at just 20-years-old, he led the Nationals to a World Series victory, the first in franchise history (non-Senators division). All good things must come to an end, and as the Nationals’ window closed they cashed out sending him to the San Diego Padres for a haul of prospects.

World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

What position does he play?

Soto has only ever played the corner outfield positions as a professional. The majority of his starts, 452 of them, have come in left field. He has another 301 starts in right field. He most recently played left field for the Padres and is probably much better suited to left field than right field at Fenway park. If you are trading for Soto you likely aren’t going to sweat the issue of which corner outfield position he will occupy.

Is he any good?

Well, since you asked, yes, he is in fact historically good. Of all of the players who have ever played baseball in the major leagues only nine players in history have posted a better wRC+ than his is 154 through their age 24 season with a minimum of 2500 PA. The only names ahead of him are inner circle hall of famers: Ted Williams, Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mikey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker, and Rogers Hornsby. That is an absurd list. You can also make a strong argument that he is doing this in a much more competitive and difficult environment than many of these early 1900’s guys who are ranked ahead of him.

So what kind of players is he ranked ahead of? Again a list of baseball legends and inner circle hall of famers like Eddie Matthews, Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, and many, many more. Players like Soto are truly generational talents and to be able to add one as a cornerstone on your baseball team is a rare privilege.

Tl;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.

162 G, 708 PA, .275/.410/.519, 35 HR, 109 RBI, 97 R, 26 SB, 18.6/18.2 BB/K%, 155 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR

Would he be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

Despite the criticisms that this Red Sox lineup is too left-handed, yes, 1000 times yes — this is a fantastic fit. While Soto is certainly more dominant against righties over his career with a 167 wRC+, he is also excellent vs lefties posting a 127 wRC+. The bottom line here is that this is precisely the type of player you acqure via trade for the right to get any possible advantage in the contest to sign him to a long term deal. He is an ideal building block and you worry about fitting right handed bats around him as time goes on. Rarely do you get to trade for a player for what will be his age 25 season with the opportunity to sign him from his age 26 season forward.

What will he cost?

This is where it gets interesting. His final arbitration year estimate for 2024 is $33 million via MLB Trade Rumors. That would make him the highest paid player on the Padres next year in real money output. This is extremely relevant because, as Evan Drellich, Dennis Lin, and Ken Rosenthal just reported, the Padres may be in dire financial straits, and had to take a loan of $50 million dollars out just to meet their player payroll and other financial obligations. In short, this is a team that could be looking to shed payroll and it would be harder to move some of their longer term commitments like Fernando Tatis Jr, Manny Machado, or Xander Bogaerts.

One idea I had for a trade package was sending Jarren Duran, Ceddane Rafaela, Nick Yorke, and Luis Perales for Juan Soto, Ha-Seong Kim, and Trent Grisham. All of the players the Red Sox are sending are young and cost controlled, the first to become a free agent would be Duran in 2029. On the flip side, the Padres could free up nearly 45 million dollars of payroll while shedding the unproductive Grisham. This is the last year for Soto and Kim before they reach free agency and it is Grisham’s second-to-last arbitration year. Even with making this move, the Padres will still have plenty of star power to compete and increased financial flexibility. The Padres might be doubly interested in making this move now, since Machado is likely to miss at least a third, if not more, of next season.

Show me a cool highlight.

He’s Juan Soto, so literally anything with him doing the “Soto Shuffle” and then mashing a home run is fun. Here is one of my favorite homers from Soto in game six of the 2019 World Series vs the Astros to break the tie.

Smash or pass?

This is the most obvious of all smashes. In fact, I’d rather they do this than anything else from a pure fun standpoint. Making my hypothetical trade would allow the Red Sox to play Masataka Yoshida in left field, Grisham in center, and Soto in right. The infield would consist of Rafael Devers at third, Kim at shortstop, Trevor Story at second base, and Triston Casas at first. It would also allow them to bring back Justin Turner, who was a tremendous fit and a right handed bat, to be the designated hitter. That team would absolutely mash and the defense would be very solid. Make it happen, Breslow.