All signs currently point to the San Diego Padres trading Juan Soto this season — the Yankees and Mets are seen as two of the favorites to land the star outfielder.
The 25-year-old is under team control for one more season where he’s projected to earn $33 million in 2024, per MLBTradeRumors‘ projections and while he’s still one of the best young hitters in baseball, slashing .275/.410/.519 (.930 OPS) with 35 home runs and 109 RBI last season, the Padres simply can’t afford him.
Banking on postseason revenue that never came due to a disappointing product on the field, the Padres were forced to take out an approximate $50 million loan in September to cover short-term expenses that included player payroll, as first reported by The Athletic.
Because they’re not in compliance with Major League Baseball’s regulations regarding their debt-to-service ratio, they’re also expecting to cut their payroll by 20% this winter.
Even with Blake Snell and Josh Hader’s pricey deals set to come off the books as they’ll likely depart in free agency, that’s not easy to do. The Padres have big money already invested in a core of stars. Manny Machado (11 years, $350 million), Fernando Tatis Jr. (14-year, $338.2 million), and Xander Bogaerts (11-year, $280 million) will combine to make over $53 million in 2024. A pair of starting pitchers in Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish combine to earn another $36 million, too.
That’s five of just nine players who currently have guaranteed contracts, per FanGraphs. San Diego has another six players, including Soto, headed for arbitration. That’s a lot of holes in a roster to address while trying to keep the payroll around $200 million next year.
ESPN insider Buster Olney went on the Michael Kay Show on Friday and said that there’s a “100%” chance that Soto will be dealt before Opening Day to add more fodder to the trade rumor fire.
So where does this leave the Mets and Yankees? Let’s take a look:
Juan Soto trade rumors: How Mets, Yankees stack up
The Padres will obviously be looking for a hefty haul in return from whichever team they ultimately link up with in a Soto deal. They gave up heavy resources in 2022 just to get him at the trade deadline and will want to supplement some of those losses.
San Diego has a farm system that should rank within the top half of MLB, but should receive an influx of young talent this winter when they part ways with Soto. But they also need starting pitching. There’s no depth behind Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish — both of whom were shut down early in 2023 due to injury.
There should also be something said about Soto’s likelihood of re-signing with the team he is ultimately traded to. If one team is capable of shelling out more cash than another, that potential suitor would likely be willing to give up a little bit more — though both New York teams shouldn’t have that problem. The key word, though, is shouldn’t… not wouldn’t.
Prospects advantage: Mets
In a flash, the Mets went from having a mediocre to bottom-tier farm system and now possess one of the top stale of prospects in baseball. Trading Max Scherzer and eating a chunk of his contract yielded the club’s new No. 1 prospect, infielder Luisangel Acuna. He (No. 38) and outfielder Drew Gilbert (No. 52) — acquired from the Houston Astros in the Justin Verlander deal — are the highest-rated prospects amongst the New York teams ranked by MLB Pipeline.
Both the Mets and Yankees have five prospects in the Top 100, though the Yankees’ youngsters are all rated 73rd or lower. The Mets’ system is also significantly deeper with Ronny Mauricio, Kevin Parada, and Jett Williams being joined in the last year by high-upside prospects in Ryan Clifford (also acquired in the Verlander deal) and 2023 first-round draft pick, Colin Houck.
Of course, this comes down to how much new president of baseball operations David Stearns would be willing to subtract from their burgeoning prospect pool. The name of the game is to create a sustainable winner fueled by a deep farm system and immediately taking away key pieces — and the Padres will likely ask for the top ones — would appear counterintuitive. However, Soto screams sustainability. Suddenly the Mets would not have to worry about right field or the No. 2 spot in their lineup for at least a decade.
Starting pitching advantage: Yankees
Both clubs don’t possess much starting-pitching depth to deal from, but the Yankees do have the slight edge.
Gerrit Cole was a one-man rotation at times throughout the 2023 season and it should get him a Cy Young Award, but Carlos Rodon was a massive disappointment after signing a big deal in free agency to come over from the San Francisco Giants while Luis Severino battled injuries and major struggles again.
But the Mets currently have just two legitimate starting pitchers in place with Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana returning next year. While David Peterson, Tylor Megill, and Jose Butto might compete for a No. 5 or 6 spot in the rotation, Stearns will be active on the market to beef up an incredibly thin pitching staff — which obviously is not a place the Mets can deal from right now with Blade Tidwell and Mike Vasil among minor-league options to keep an eye on.
If Hal Steinbrenner wants to make an investment in the Yankees, he can practically rebuild the bottom portion of his rotation by offering arms like Nestor Cortes — who regressed mightily from an All-Star campaign in 2022 — or Clarke Schmidt with a package of prospects to help sweeten the return for the Padres.
Aggression advantage: Mets
When Steve Cohen wants something, more often than not he’ll do everything within his power to get it. So if he legitimately sets his sights on acquiring Soto, the Padres will be met with relentlessness from the Queens club.
The Mets proved that they’re willing to eat money to maximize their deals, doing so in their trades of Scherzer and Verlander over the summer. That could open different avenues in a trade with the cash-strapped Padres to also limit the number of quality prospects they’d be willing to part with.
Regardless, recent history proves that Cohen is willing to spend and gamble more than the Yankees — who don’t appear to know what they’re doing — on the market. Again, if he chooses to go after Soto, it’s with the expectations of securing his prime and what comes after that.