Quick Bit: The Nationals outfielder is all the buzz around MLB.

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The Nationals have made it known that they’re willing to trade Juan Soto, who is 23 years old, already has a World Series championship under his belt, and is on the short list of contenders for the “best hitter in baseball” title.

As you can imagine, lots of teams are interested.

Which means, there’s lots of information — well, lots of speculation, mixed with tidbits of actual information — being thrown about leading up to the Aug. 2 trade deadline. It’s an odd situation, with a player this good being made so publicly available. The Nationals, of course, have made attempts to sign Soto long-term, but Soto has rejected all offers. They’ve been north of $300 million — the most recent one was a reported $440 million over 15 years — but while the overall numbers seem staggering, they would still represent what is essentially a hometown discount.

Soto could make more on the open market. Nobody doubts that. He’s under club control through the end of the 2024 season, then eligible to become a free agent that offseason.

MORE: Juan Soto leads the 20 players most likely to be moved by the MLB trade deadline

“He’s so incredible,” Braves All-Star catcher Travis d’Arnaud told The Sporting News during the All-Star festivities. “It’s so rare and unique to have someone have such an advanced approach and not expand on anything. He’s probably 1 of 1 in that case. He never chases, and if he does he gets mad at himself, and if you throw it again he doesn’t chase. He makes in-game adjustments so fast. If you make mistakes, he hits it so hard, and most of the time it’s a double or a home run. It’s just incredible.

“He just puts so much work into his craft. It’s good for young guys to see a hitter that excellent at such a young age, so they have someone to emulate. It’s good for baseball. He’s a once-in-a-generation type of hitter.”

And he’s going to command a once-in-a-generation trade package for the Nationals to move him. That makes it seem unlikely that a deal will come together in the next week; remember, the trade deadline was pushed back to Aug. 2 from the traditional July 31 in part because of the delayed start to the season. Still, though, it’s possible.

You’re going to hear a lot of Juan Soto noise between now and then. Here are two truths you need to keep in mind while sorting through all the chatter.

The Cardinals might be interested, but they might just be leverage

Never forget that Soto is a Scott Boras client, folks. Boras was there at All-Star media day, standing about four feet behind Soto’s left shoulder as the possibly-soon-to-be-traded superstar answered questions from the media. Soto wasn’t Boras’ only NL All-Star client, of course, but he was the one who is commanding Boras’ very public attention.

And what seems to always happen when a Boras client is a free agent? The deep-pocket Yankees or Dodgers are always reportedly involved. Or, better yet, a “mystery team” emerges. Leverage is always part of a Boras-client conversation. That’s not shady or sneaky, it’s a legitimate tactic from an agent who knows the game. But it’s always worth keeping in mind.

With the Cardinals, instead of the deep pockets it would take to land a free agent, it’s the prospect riches the franchise has that Boras is using to drive up the acquisition cost for his player. Teams that want Soto are now thinking, “Wait, we have to compete against a package that starts with centerpieces Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Matthew Liberatore? We’d better step up our offer.”

MORE: With Juan Soto trade looming, a look back at recent MLB blockbusters

But, you might be asking, “Why does an agent care about who he’s traded for?” It’s this: the goal of driving up Soto’s acquisition cost is driving up his profile, which drives up his price when he either enters extension discussions with his new team or free agent talks after 2024. Can’t you just hear Boras saying “You gave up all those great young players and now you’re going to let Soto leave for nothing?”

It’s always something. That’s why you’re seeing headlines calling the Cardinals a “potential frontrunner” in the Soto trade talks. Those stand mildly in opposition to pieces like this one from MLB.com, where MLB executives were polled and asked where they thought Soto would land. The Padres (eight votes) were first, the Dodgers (seven votes) were second and the Cardinals were tied with the Mariners, Mets, Yankees and Rays with three votes each.

So, yeah. The Cardinals might actually be interested in Soto — he makes sense, and they do have the necessary prospect capital — but they also just might be leverage used by the Boras camp.

The team that trades for Soto doesn’t have to keep him

By this point, you’ve all seen the articles and tweets talking about which teams have the financial might to sign Soto to the long-term extension he wants. The Mets, of course, jump to the top of that list with Steve Cohen’s bottomless wallet. Maybe he’s more palatable long-term to the Yankees than Aaron Judge because Soto is 23 and Judge is 30. The Yankees could use the Judge money (plus some) for Soto instead.

But here’s another truth: The team that trades for Juan Soto does not have to extend him to extract lots of value from him. They’ll have him under club control for 2 1/2 years, which means they can make a World Series run in 2022, then another World Series run in 2023 and then — gasp! — trade him that offseason.

Thing is, if Soto’s healthy and produces anywhere near what expectations are for his age-24 and age-25 seasons, teams across baseball will line up to pay handsomely in prospects for his age-26 season. There’s no doubt about that. The prospect haul then wouldn’t be as much as it would be now, of course, but it still would be significant: two top prospects plus a few others.

The Rockies got Carlos Gonzalez for a year of age-29 Matt Holliday. The Mariners got Mike Cameron for a year of age-30 Ken Griffey Jr.

MORE: Juan Soto says ‘you don’t know what to trust’ amid uncertain future as deadline approaches

So let’s say the prospect price for Soto now is five players: three elite prospects/young MLBers plus two high-upside prospects. A team that pays that price and has Soto — arguably the best hitter in baseball — in its lineup for 1 1/2 seasons, then trades him for two elite prospects and one other isn’t doing that poorly in the whole deal.

Did you notice when we mentioned the MLB.com poll of executives how the Rays were tied for third place with the Yankees, Cardinals, Mets and Mariners? Yeah. If the Rays trade for Soto, they are not signing him long-term.

But there are still plenty of reasons for the Rays — and anybody else — to trade for Juan Soto.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More

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