On Tuesday, Juan Soto will be manning the Dodger Stadium outfield as a member of the National League All-Star team.
The next time he takes that field may just be as a member of the home team.
On Saturday morning, the 23-year-old superstar rejected a mammoth 15-year, $440 million contract extension to stay with the Washington Nationals for what would likely be the remainder of his career. The deal would have made him the highest-paid player in baseball history. But Soto had other plans in mind.
When Washington decided to blow everything up just two years after its improbable World Series title, everyone became available aside from their young superstar.
One team that took advantage of the Nationals’ garage sale was the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, poised to go back-to-back while fighting with the San Francisco Giants in the NL West (and in the pursuit of the Nationals’ ace), went all-in. They traded their top two prospects — catcher Keibert Ruiz and starting pitcher Josiah Gray — along with two other prospects to the Nationals. In return, they not only got the prize of the trade deadline in Max Scherzer, but they also snagged All-Star shortstop Trea Turner.
The Dodgers (again) showed no fear of trading young talent from their loaded farm system and (again) showed no fear of trading for guys they’d need to pull out the checkbooks for in the upcoming offseasons — a year earlier the Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts and within a few months signed him to a 12-year, $365 million extension. Scherzer ended up leaving the Dodgers for the Mets, but Turner still had another year on his deal and will now be up for an extension in a few months.
This June, as the Nationals were clearly in the early stages of a rebuild, rumors swirled about a potential deal involving Soto. He was set for two more years of arbitration before he would become a free agent in the 2024-25 offseason.
Nats GM Mike Rizzo, however, quickly shot down those rumors when he said, “We are not trading Juan Soto.”
On Saturday, that narrative may have drastically shifted.
With the trade deadline in just a few weeks, the somewhat surprising rejection from Soto sent a clear message to the other 29 general managers and front offices around baseball.
Start getting your packages (and your checkbooks) ready, because the Nationals are open for business.
In May, the LA Times reported that an email went out to MLB reporters with the subject line “Juan Soto Trade Odds.” The Nationals were the favorites on the list to have Soto on their roster following the trade deadline. The Dodgers were second.
But would the Dodgers really unload their farm for a guy they’d have to pay well over $400 million for when they already have Betts and Freddie Freeman locked into contracts paying them each over $27 million a year?
The short answer is yes. The long-answer? Well, it’s also yes.
As I said, the Dodgers are no stranger to win-now, all-in trade deadline deals for superstars. They’re also no strangers to deals with the Nationals, and with Soto’s agent, Scott Boras. Not only are current Dodgers Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger clients of Boras, but so is the guy they got from the Nationals a year ago in Scherzer.
The Dodgers also have more than enough talent to make a deal happen, which may be one of the greatest returns in MLB history. Guys in the Majors like Gavin Lux or Dustin May could headline the package, while top prospects Bobby Miller, Diego Cartaya, or Miguel Vargas could help round it out. The Nationals would love to get any combination of those players to jumpstart their rebuild, while the Dodgers would be locking in a big three of Soto, Betts, and Freeman through at least 2027.
At the beginning of this season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts guaranteed a World Series victory. As of Saturday, the Dodgers sit with the best record in the NL and second-best in all of baseball at 59-30. They’ve won 14 of their past 16 games, and have opened up a 9.5-game lead in the NL West. They look like the clear favorite to come out of the NL, even with their loaded injured list and the first-half struggles of guys like Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, and Justin Turner (although he’s heating up as of late).
The Dodgers don’t necessarily need to make a farm-clearing move for a guy like Soto. But if they had the opportunity, why wouldn’t they?