Juan Soto to the Phillies makes a ton of sense and here’s why

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Phillies Juan soto
San Diego Padres’ Juan Soto reacts after striking out during the fourth inning in Game 1 of the baseball NL Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

MLB insiders have continually banged the drum about an impending Juan Soto trade. The San Diego Padres eventually dealing away the All-Star outfielder seems like a formality but his new home is still being speculated on. The Philadelphia Phillies are one of many playoff contenders that Soto has been linked to and have the infrastructure to bring him aboard.

Soto is set to be a free agent after the 2024 season and will obviously, rightly command a huge contract. Any team that trades for the 25-year-old is likely willing and eager to agree to an extension. Teams will have to get ready to open their wallets at some point to keep Soto and part with a massive trade package.

The Phillies fit the bill as a potential Juan Soto destination. On top of rostering former teammates Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Trea Turner — the last of whom he won a World Series with — the franchise is clearly willing to spend big on player salaries and is well-suited to get Soto back in championship contention.

To put it lightly, it’s going to take a massive effort from the Phillies to get Soto. In the end, it will be well worth it. But how might they get there? What type of trade package would it take to get him?

Phillies Juan Soto
San Diego Padres’ Jurickson Profar reacts after striking out during the ninth inning in Game 3 of the baseball NL Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The risk of making a trade vs. waiting for free agency

While Juan Soto’s fit on the Phillies is seamless (we’ll get to that later), there is a gigantic risk associated with him: his expiring contract.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic mentioned previously that because Soto is a Scott Boras client, the most likely path forward for Soto is testing the free-agency waters after his contract expires in 2024. Whatever team trades for him will have to face the possibility of losing him after just one season.

Rolling the dice on Soto brings a super high reward but also a super high risk. A team trading away its biggest trade chips for a single year of the star outfielder would be a tough setback. Risks and leaps of faith are required to get to the ultimate prize but this move has the potential to end a championship window.

One aspect in the Phillies’ favor is that Boras knows they are all about winning. They shelled out to sign his biggest client, Bryce Harper, and then kept doing it to put a winning team around him. Juan Soto will be with former teammates in a fun, supportive clubhouse in front of a top-tier atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park. That track record is a huge part of a recruiting pitch that not many other teams have.

There is a line of thinking that teams would be wiser to wait for Juan Soto to hit free agency than to trade for him. If he’s gonna get his bread anyway, why add in the cost of some top prospects? Well, because having that year with Soto is extremely valuable. It’s another season where he’s helping your team win. Plus, it allows a team to show Soto to his face how they can take care of him and give him a long-term shot to succeed.

Yes, that risk of Juan Soto walking for nothing exists — and there are still teams with deep pockets who will be waiting to pounce — but if you truly believe in this Phillies organization, you should feel comfortable that they have a good shot to convince Soto to make Philly his home for the rest of his playing days. In fact, the expiring contract may actually help the Phillies pay less in a trade for the superstar outfielder.

Examining the original Juan Soto trade

The first Juan Soto trade sent him to the Padres with slugger Josh Bell at the cost of MacKenzie Gore, C.J. Abrams, Luke Voit, James Wood, Robert Hassell III and Jarlin Susana. San Diego had to empty the top of its farm system to get the Washington Nationals to part ways with one of the game’s very best young stars (and Bell).

According to MLB Pipeline rankings, the Padres traded their no. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 19 prospects for Juan Soto. The Phillies’ 2023 prospects at each respective rank are Andrew Painter, Mick Abel, Aidan Miller, Griff McGarry and TJayy Walton. That’s still a good trade for Soto but it’s probably not what Philly will have to trade given San Diego’s complete lack of leverage.

Philadelphia Phillies baseball team President of Baseball Operations David Dombrowski takes questions from the media after signing Aaron Nola to a new seven-year contract, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Given his contract situation, the price is tougher to gauge this time around. Whoever gets Juan Soto won’t have two and a half years to figure out an extension like San Diego did — it’ll be just one year this time. There’s also the consideration that the price was steeper because the Padres also got Bell, who went on to be their main designated hitter in the postseason.

What makes the trade price easier to gauge is San Diego’s desperate need for pitching. SNY’s Andy Martino wrote that the Padres, who are reportedly engaging in legitimate trade talks with the New York Yankees, are looking for “top prospects/rookies” and “young major league pitchers” in exchange for Soto.

Given the Padres’ need for pitching — something that Rosenthal recently noted as a main reason why a Soto deal is imminent — Painter can be reasonably expected to be one of numerous pitchers included in the potential trade. Assuming his medicals are in order as he works back from Tommy John surgery, Philly’s top prospect is likely the headline of a package with multiple minor-league arms.

A Phillies pivot for Juan Soto

So, what if the Phillies’ trade package ends up being Sanchez, Painter, Abel or McGarry and a position-player prospect ranked somewhere from five to 10 in Philly’s farm system?

From the Padres’ perspective, they’re getting several young pitchers, one of whom has shown promise at the MLB level already. Abel could get there next season and while Painter is still on the mend, he has fantastic potential. The Phillies may be able to get away with not sending Abel or McGarry but even if the Padres insist on it, that’s a trade worth shaking hands on.

Parting with Painter will be tough but that’s a very good trade for the Phillies, who get to keep Justin Crawford, the top position player on their prospect rankings. The front office would have itself an instant franchise cornerstone for over a decade in Soto (assuming they’re ready to put a new contract in place). With the pitching rotation already set with three strong options at the top, the organization can afford to part with the young pitchers.

Plus, Soto’s plate approach would give Philly a much-needed change of pace. The 2023 team was roughly league average at drawing walks last season while the modern-day Ted Williams led the walk percentage leaderboard for the fourth consecutive season. He still hits home runs at a rate well above the league average and has played at least 150 games in each of the last three seasons. Lackluster defense and base-running aside, this dude is special — and he still has most of his prime ahead of him.

Could Juan Soto take Nick Castellanos’ spot?

Going for Juan Soto likely means the Phillies could trade Nick Castellanos to open up a spot in the outfield. Brandon Marsh’s age, steadier plate approach and ability to play multiple outfield spots make him the guy the Phillies should prioritize keeping. Dave Dombrowski was non-committal about Johan Rojas starting the season as the Phillies’ center fielder but should still find his way there by the season’s end so long as he shows more impact at the plate.

Diamondbacks Phillies vs diamondbacks Juan soto
Philadelphia Phillies’ Nick Castellanos reacts after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of Game 4 of a baseball NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia. Could he be moved in a Juan Soto trade?.(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Although it would add another left-handed hitter to a team that saw an LHH in 46.9% of its regular-season plate appearances — the second-most of any team, behind only the Boston Red Sox’s 53.1% — Soto is a massive, massive upgrade over Castellanos.

Assuming Schwarber and Turner keep their top two spots, one of Bryce Harper or Juan Soto will protect the other one in a lineup. That’s a lot of great patience and power for pitchers to deal with. While this would presumptively push Bryson Stott to sixth to break up the lefties with (probably) J.T. Realmuto batting fifth, Soto would be the freshest breath of air for a Philly offense that ended its season with piles of whiffs.

Will the Phillies land Juan Soto?

The Padres’ desire to cut payroll is the whole reason why Juan Soto is up for grabs in the first place, so sending them Castellanos and the $60 million he is still owed over three years almost certainly isn’t on the table. A team being out there that wants Casty opens the doors for a three-team deal but it’s hard to gauge what that franchise would look and operate like. An outfield of Juan Soto, Brandon Marsh and Nick Castellanos is still very good, especially considering 2/3 of it have yet to play an age-26 season.

The question the Phillies have to ask themselves is if Soto is worth making the all-in push. Although their farm system will regenerate with new prospects eventually, the guys they have now serve as (in addition to the future of the team) the main trade chips to boost a World-Series caliber core. But because that core is ready to rock right now, going for Soto has the potential to make Philly the most formidable juggernaut in baseball.

AP Photo/Gregory Bull