Franchise players don't become available very often. When they do, they're usually difficult to acquire, and that's not expected to change with outfielder Juan Soto.
Earlier this week, a report surfaced from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that Soto had recently rejected a 15-year, $440-million contract offer from the Washington Nationals. If accepted, the deal would've featured a $29.3 million AAV through 2037.
Rosenthal's report also suggested the team is willing to listen to trade offers involving Soto now that it's becoming clear he won't re-sign long-term. That's expected to add plenty of juice leading up to the Aug. 2 trade deadline.
Of course, there won't be a shortage of potential suitors for the 2022 Home Run Derby champion. He'll almost certainly be pursued by the 29 other franchises — including the Toronto Blue Jays.
Soto would be a perfect fit for the Blue Jays. The 23-year-old, who won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2024 campaign, is one of the premier hitters in the game and bats from the left side. He'd perfectly complement the franchise's right-handed-heavy lineup.
Imagine posting a batting order that features George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alejandro Kirk, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Matt Chapman and Soto. Opposing pitchers would surely have nightmares about facing that offence.
Granted, the two-time All-Star's production has dipped this season, at least by his incredible standards. In 91 games, he's hitting .250/.405/.497 with 20 home runs, 43 RBIs and a 152 wRC+ — his lowest score since 2019 (143). His offensive WAR rating (21.3) is also the lowest of his career.
But this isn't Soto's fault. Most — if not all — of the blame is on Washington's front office. General manager Mike Rizzo and his staff opted to tear down the club's roster just as their generational superstar was entering his prime, and he's one of the few that remains from their 2019 World Series squad.
Now, Soto is barely surrounded by any major-league talent. Aside from first baseman Josh Bell and designated hitter Nelson Cruz, he isn't receiving much support from any other players on the roster.
Despite his underachieving 2022 performance, the 6-foot-2 slugger will be highly coveted on the trade market. After all, only Mike Trout and Yordan Alvarez possess a higher wRC+ than Soto (155) since 2018, according to FanGraphs.
The Nationals are hoping to maximize Soto's current value this season, especially since any team that acquires his services will have him for three potential playoff runs. That means Rizzo can charge top dollar via trade.
An unprecedented acquisition cost could prove to be one of the reasons a blockbuster trade might not happen in 2022. If it does, however, Washington will undoubtedly receive a massive haul of future assets in return.
Any franchise that hopes to land Soto will likely be forced to surrender most of its top prospects. For Toronto, that could mean parting with catcher Gabriel Moreno, pitcher Ricky Tiedemann and infielders Orelvis Martinez and Jordan Groshans. Nate Pearson, who's currently injured, may also have to be included in this package.
That would essentially clear the upper tier of the Blue Jays' farm system, which general manager Ross Atkins has shied away from doing previously. He and president Mark Shapiro have worked diligently to restock the organization's prospect pool since taking over in 2016.
Even if the front office was willing to make this type of trade, it would then be tasked with clearing the team's logjam in the outfield. That wouldn't be an easy task, either.
With Soto joining the mix, the Blue Jays would need to create an opening for him in either left or right field, meaning Gurriel Jr. or Hernandez would likely need to be traded.
So, which outfielder would be the odd man out? Immediately, your mind probably jumps to Gurriel, right? That's understandable. On the surface, he'd be the likelier choice of the two, but it might be wiser to keep him.
From a financial standpoint, Gurriel's team-friendly contract is more appealing. It includes a $4.9 million salary in 2022 and $5.8 million in '23. Hernandez, however, is making $10.6 million this year and will enter his final year of arbitration next season.
It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Soto's contract extension will reach $500 million, if not higher. With that in mind, Rogers Communications, which owns the Blue Jays, might not be interested in featuring one of the highest payrolls in MLB. With Hernandez being more expensive over Gurriel, he'd likely be the one to go.
Acquiring Soto would also increase the difficulty of eventually extending Bichette and Guerrero Jr., who are poised to receive monster deals themselves. Neither player will be a free agent until 2026 at the earliest. Though, with large salaries already committed to Springer, José Berríos and Kevin Gausman, keeping both wouldn't be a guarantee.
It's also unclear if acquiring Soto would improve the Blue Jays' chances of winning a World Series. This move certainly wouldn't impact the pitching staff, which remains their greatest weakness.
After moving all these pieces to make a Soto trade work, Yusei Kikuchi — when healthy — would remain the club's No. 5 starter. That's not ideal. The bullpen would still require improvements as well.
The front office would have limited resources to address those needs as the prospect cupboard would be left empty, meaning it would be much more difficult to find an impact starter or reliever.
As talented as Washington's superstar is, he's a game-changing hitter, not a pitcher. The postseason is built on having waves of reliable arms, and that's what the Blue Jays need to target rather than further improving their already talented offence.
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