How the Padres can trade Juan Soto and remain competitive

Sep 18, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Juan Soto (22) hits an RBI single against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres and Juan Soto do not seem close to an extension. If there is a trade in the near future, could the Padres still field a competitive team in 2024?

Welcome to the MLB offseason, where rumors are swirling, and every fanbase seems to have anonymous sources on X saying that the player they really want their team to sign or trade for is headed their way.

It’s hard to sort through the muck. However, there seems to be real smoke under the fire of the Juan Soto trade rumor mill. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal seems very confident that the Padres will trade Juan Soto.

“The question is not whether Soto will be traded. The question is which team will acquire him,” he writes.

He cites the fact that the Padres are looking to unburden themselves financially and get some freedom to acquire pitching.

Soto’s projected arbitration salary is somewhere around $33 million. That is considerably more than any other Padres player on payroll for 2024.

Thus, if the Padres trade Soto, it will free them up to acquire pitching. And boy, do they need pitching. Lots of it. NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Nick Martinez, and Seth Lugo are all free agents.

As of now, FanGraphs projects their starting rotation for 2024 to look something like this…

Joe Musgrove

Yu Darvish

Matt Waldron

Pedro Avila

Jay Groome

The part below the top two of that rotation is Not-Suitable-For-Children scary.

So, first things first, if the Padres are going to trade Soto and remain serious about competing in 2024, MLB-proven pitchers need to be part of the deal.

Not every team is willing to deal away their controllable starting pitching. It is perhaps the hardest thing in baseball to acquire and keep. The Padres are also in a position where they can demand quite a lot for a whole season of Soto. He is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, with a career-high 35 home runs and an MLB-leading 132 walks. With a .930 OPS and 158 OPS+ alongside those numbers, he earned himself a spot at sixth in NL MVP voting.

Plus, he is still just 25 years old.

In order to trade Soto and remain competitive, it must be a pitcher-heavy deal. The Padres still have plenty of bats, with Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and Ha-Seong Kim leading the way. While parting with Soto would obviously blow a major hole in the depth of the lineup, the quality of pitching they could acquire in a trade for Soto, as well as with the money saved, might be able to counteract it to some extent.

Now the question becomes, where do the Padres send Soto? Who is willing to part with the starting pitching and prospects necessary to acquire Soto?

These teams must be flush with pitching, young talent, and ready to win now.

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The Seattle Mariners first come to mind. Bryan Woo is an intriguing young starting pitcher for them. He posted a 4.21 ERA and 96 ERA+ in just over 87 innings as a rookie this past season. His peripheral numbers are even better, with his expected ERA, average exit velocity allowed, and hard hit percentage allowed all ranked in the 80th percentile or better.

One would think that Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla could see to it that those numbers improve. Woo has five viable pitches and could be slotted right into the Padres rotation.

Of course, the Padres would ask for far more than just Woo. Another solid young arm is needed. Prelander Berroa dominated Double-A last season, with a 2.89 ERA in 43 games, while making two very brief appearances with the big league club. He struck out three without allowing a hit in 1 2/3 innings for Seattle. He could be a young option in the bullpen to shoulder some of the losses there, such as Josh Hader, Tim Hill, and Luis Garcia.

If the Padres are going to say yes, another player is needed. The Padres also need depth on their bench. Dominic Canzone came over to Seattle from the Diamondbacks in the Paul Sewald and Josh Rojas trade. After the trade, he hit five homers in 44 games and played solid defense in left field.

In this scenario, the Padres get a young arm to plug into their rotation (Woo), a developing bullpen arm that could win a spot out of Spring Training (Berroa), and a bench bat with athleticism to play the outfield (Canzone).

Plus, the savings in salary could allow the Padres to spend on a free-agent starter such as  Jordan Montgomery. Adding Woo and Montgomery to Musgrove and Darvish gives the Padres a solid top three with Woo being a young, unproven starter with big upside.

The Blue Jays are another team that fits the mold.

They have an exciting young lefty starting pitcher named Ricky Tiedemann. He posted an FIP below 2.20 in 11 combined starts between Double and Triple-A last season. He is a Southern California native and is very close to breaking into the big leagues. He currently ranks as Toronto’s No. 1 prospect and is a consensus top 50 prospect in all of baseball. Perhaps the Padres would give him a shot to earn a rotation spot right out of the gate in Spring Training.

That is not all the Padres would require of Toronto. Utility player Cavan Biggio might need a change of scenery. He has played nearly every defensive position and could be a decent bench option. He has just a .220 average and 96 OPS+ combined over his last two seasons. Maybe the Padres can recapture his 2019-2020 form when he had a near .800 OPS.

The Padres would likely require another prospect to sweeten this deal, like young outfielder Dasan Brown (No. 29 prospect in the organization).

Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned before, this frees up the Padres to pursue perhaps multiple starting pitchers in free agency, such as Marcus Stroman, and they can attempt to bring back one of Seth Lugo or Michael Wacha.

A rotation with Musgrove, Darvish, Stroman, and  Lugo/Wacha, plus giving the young Tiedemann a chance to compete with the Padres’ young incumbents would be a serviceable group.

Finally, the Yankees also fit the bill. In fact, rumors are swirling that the two teams have engaged in talks to the point of exchanging names in a Soto trade.

In this scenario, the Padres require a player who can be inserted into the starting rotation. In New York, that is Clarke Schmidt. In 32 starts last season, he posted a pedestrian 4.64 ERA and 93 ERA+. However, that was his first entire season as an MLB starter, and has good upside.

After Schmidt, the Yankees could offer veteran catcher Jose Trevino. He would be a valuable pairing to Luis Campusno as a solid defense-first backstop. He is just a year removed from an All-Star and Platinum Glove performance in 2022. The Yankees are set at catcher with Austin Wells and Kyle Higashioka.

That might seem light for a trade for someone of Soto’s immense talent. Well, in a twist, the Yankees could also take on Jake Cronenworth‘s contract in this scenario. Frankly, the Padres made a mistake not only extending him but moving him to first base. The Yankees are a team that could shoulder his contract and he would be in a hitter-friendly park.

Freeing up the payroll from Soto and Cronenworth, who combined would take up over $40 million alone, would allow the Padres to be even more aggressive in free agency.

Another $40 million freed up could get the Padres one of Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, or even put themselves into the Shohei Ohtani or Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes.

If the Yankees are unwilling to take on Cronenworth’s deal, another good prospect is required to acquire Soto. Chase Hampton is their No. 4 prospect and is a right-handed pitcher with starter potential.

That deal gives the Padres a viable rotation piece (Schmidt), with a proven catcher to pair with Campusano (Trevino), and an exciting developing pitcher in Hampton.

The Padres need to come away with any deal for Soto with a major league-level starting pitcher on top of an exciting prospect or two. A bonus would be adding a bench bat as well.

It is possible for the Padres to trade away Soto and still field a competitive team in 2024. In reality, trading Soto feels like one of the only ways San Diego could replenish their starting rotation enough to offset the losses in free agency.

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