MLB

How the Juan Soto deal may alter MLB balance of power for years, and create a $500-million man in the process

Major League Baseball’s trade deadline produced a good number of nice moves, and some will likely have a direct impact on the way this year’s playoffs might unfold. But there was one deal that may very well have implications on the playoffs for years to come. 

By now, baseball fans have seen the Juan Soto stats that show how the young star compares favorably to some of the greatest players in baseball history. We’re talking about Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and those types of inner-circle legends. Soto doesn’t turn 24 years old until October, yet he already has 569 hits, 108 doubles, 119 home runs, 358 RBI, 399 runs and a World Series ring. 

To see a player this special dealt is pretty jarring. It almost never happens, as we almost never see players the caliber of Soto. He’s exceedingly rare. 

That’s why the move will be felt throughout baseball for years. It’s a landscape-changing move, and to find a comp you’d need go 15 years back in time.

After the Soto deal went through, one of the first thoughts I had was when Cabrera was traded in 2007 after his age-24 season from the Marlins to the Tigers. It wasn’t a deadline deal, but Miggy was also a generational talent at a similar age. The Marlins won the World Series his rookie year. They followed with two winning seasons before starting to go south. Cabrera was shipped to Detroit along with Dontrelle Willis. 

The headliners of the deal were outfielder Cameron Maybin and promising lefty starter Andrew Miller. They were both top-10 prospects in all of baseball before the 2007 season. 

Maybin had a nice career, though it was mostly as a journeyman backup. Miller became an ace reliever, but not for another five years and for different teams. Four other players were included, with the biggest impact coming from reliever Burke Badenhop. 

Was it really worth it for the Marlins to remake their franchise by trading Miguel Freaking Cabrera when he was only 24? It sure doesn’t look like it. 

Cabrera would become a Tigers legend, a perennial All-Star who won back-to-back MVPs. He won the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski. The Tigers won the 2012 pennant and were one of the most successful franchises for the first half of the 2010s. 

It’s the type of trajectory in a deal like that that seems like a cautionary tale for the Nationals and underlines the potential for the Padres to hit big. 

Obviously, that doesn’t mean that that’s how this deal will work. 

The Mark Teixeira trade

Those in the Nationals camp will be hoping there’s at least some resemblance to when the Rangers moved from Mark Teixeira. Now, he was a bit older, as it was his age-27 season, but Teixeira was established as a superstar at the time and it seemed a foregone conclusion he wouldn’t re-sign with the Rangers when free agency hit a year and a half later. 

The Rangers, on deadline day in 2007, sent Teixeira to the Braves for a package that included Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz. It was a deal that paved the way for the Rangers to win back-to-back AL pennants in 2010 and 2011, when they had previously never even won one. 

On the flip-side, the Braves ended up trading Teixeira next deadline for Casey Kotchman and a minor-leaguer named Stephen Marek. 

We can’t find exact matches here, as every circumstance is unique, but the Cabrera and Teixeira deals at least provide us with a blueprint on how the future could unfold — either wonderfully or woefully — for those involved.

There are more facets to consider, of course. 

The Small Market push

Look, say what you will about Padres button-pusher-extraordinaire GM A.J. Preller, but at least he’s trying to give everything he can to the team to win right now. Manny Machado is in the fourth year of his 10-year deal, but he’s also 30 and having one of the best seasons of his career. The Padres have a rotation that could end up carrying them deep into October, but it also includes a 35-year-old Yu Darvish and plenty of arm-injury-history. In adding not just Soto, but also Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury, Preller is making an aggressive push to win in 2022. Screw the future. We’ll figure that out later. 

How fun. How refreshing. 

Anyone else tired of constantly hearing teams — or, more specifically, ownership — cry poor? Anyone else exhausted with all the “market” size hand-wringing? Does it annoy you to see contending teams deal important parts from their big-league roster and then inundate us with comments about their playoff probability? 

The Padres and Preller are here for us. Are you not entertained? 

Soto’s potential free agency? 

Now, the overly-prudent front-office-types out there would immediately concern themselves with Soto’s contract status. That is, he’s going to hit free agency after the 2024 season. Machado’s 10-year, $300 million deal runs through 2028. Fernando Tatis, Jr.’s 14-year, $340 million deal runs through 2034(!). It would surely take at least $500 million to lock Soto up on an extension right now. The Padres likely don’t have the financial wherewithal to do that right now without seriously hindering their ability to field a winner in, say, 2026-28, right? 

I just don’t think that matters right now, honestly. They now have a window of three seasons of potential playoff runs with Machado, Soto and Tatis. Small-market clubs can build and rebuild and build again and never come up with that sort of a window on three elite players. It was a no-brainer for Preller to make that sort of a gamble to deal prospects for a sure thing in Soto, especially since — at age 23 — he’s the age of many prospects anyway. (Orioles rookie catcher Adley Rutschman is older than him, just to put it in perspective.) 

No matter how everything unfolds, the paths of the Padres and Nationals have been drastically altered with this trade. With the way this move will impact the NL East, the NL West and the playoffs moving forward — not only with Soto, but also Bell and the players that went to the Nationals’ way — this is a deal that will be felt throughout the league for years. In fact, with Soto moving into this situation, it seems more likely he’ll hit free agency now, which absolutely impacts the rest of baseball. 

We can focus more on the near-term right now, though. 

Padres still aren’t the best team, but …

Look, the Dodgers are going to win the NL West. They are deeper and have more overall talent than the Padres. I’m not sure anyone would dispute this, so let’s not do that strawman thing where we head to social media with some nonsense like “the media declared the Padres champions on August 2!” 

Nah, the Dodgers are still the best pick to win the NL with whoever wins the East next. 

At the same time, the playoffs become more a crapshoot as more teams qualify for October. Sometimes the very best teams win it all (hi, 2018 Red Sox and 2016 Cubs). Sometimes the teams with the fewest wins take the title, like the 88-win, 2021 Braves. Sometimes it’s the 2019 wild-card Nationals, which seem like a pertinent team to this discussion with Mr. Soto. 

These Padres are looking at a playoff rotation of Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger and either Sean Manaea or Blake Snell. The bullpen will be anchored by Josh Hader. The lineup will have firepower in Soto, Machado, Tatis, Bell and Jake Cronenworth. They could get bounced in the first round, sure, but it’s absolutely a group that could catch fire at the right time and run themselves all the way to a title. 

The San Diego Padres have never won the World Series, though the two times they reached the Fall Classic they had the misfortune of squaring off against two of the American League’s all-time juggernauts — the 1984 Detroit Tigers and the 1998 New York Yankees.

But this is a new century, and there’s a confluence of factors in here somewhere that led Preller to take a no-guts-no-glory swing. There’s the unique opportunity for three chances with a position-player nucleus of Machado-Tatis-Soto along with the knowledge that coughing up prospects is a small price to pay for a 23-year-old superstar with Soto’s pedigree and the crapshoot that the MLB playoffs can be these days. 

The landscape-altering trade provided us with plenty of entertainment on trade deadline day and it’ll continue to do so moving forward. This is a deal we’ll all remember for decades, no matter how it unfolds. 



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