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Juan Soto trade: Who’s in best position to land star? Ranking seven interested teams, including Yankees, Mets

With just one week until Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, the Washington Nationals continue to discuss trades involving outfielder Juan Soto, according to what league sources have told CBS Sports. Soto’s availability stems from his recent rejection of a 15-year, $440 million extension.

CBS Sports has already ranked Soto’s likeliest landing spots, and has explained why rival front offices expect veteran left-hander Patrick Corbin to be part of the eventual trade. The former proved to be a fruitful exercise, as each team ranked inside our top five — the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners — has checked in on Soto, according to reports.

Today, CBS Sports will continue our Soto coverage by breaking down and grading those five teams — plus the New York Mets and San Diego Padres — in a few categories pertinent to their chances of obtaining Soto: their top prospects, their notable youngsters on the big-league roster, and their financial flexibility.  

The teams have been ranked in ascending order based on how well we feel they line up with the Nationals’ desires. The difference between this and the original landing spot piece is that the latter was based on what we thought would happen; this is based on how we feel about these teams, independent of the likelihood of a trade going down. We have, however, included an “X-factor” component where we explain the larger circumstances that should be considered relevant to the real-world process. That component helps to explain discrepancies between the rankings.

Be mindful that this is more of an art than a science — different people feel different ways about different situations — and that it’s solely for entertainment purposes. To the rankings.

7. San Francisco Giants

Top prospects: The Giants don’t have the prospect warchest that some of the other teams represented in this article do. Shortstop Marco Luciano and lefty Kyle Harrison are their best prospects. Luciano has the chance to be a plus hitter, but he may need to move to third base once he reaches maturation. Harrison, a former third-round pick, has the makings of a promising three-pitch mix. He’s struck out nearly 14 batters per nine in nine Double-A starts, though he’s also issuing a free pass every other inning. Outfielder Luis Matos, who has scuffled this year, could also factor into the equation. The Giants do have an assortment of famous names on their farm, including Heliot Ramos and Patrick Bailey; neither is likely to suffice as more than a throw-in type. 

Relevant MLB youngsters: Let’s put it this way: the Giants have zero position players or starting pitchers on their current roster who are younger than 25 years old. Unless the Giants are willing to move Logan Webb — or the Nationals greatly overrate Joey Bart — there’s no sense lingering in this particular section for much longer.

Payroll situation: The Giants are all set-up to make some massive investments. Their three highest paid players, Carlos Rodón, Evan Longoria, and Brandon Belt, could come all off the books this winter. The Giants have just one guaranteed commitment beyond next winter, and they’re already running a payroll well beneath what they’ve been capable of in the past. It seems like just a matter of who and when the Giants pay.

X-factor: The Giants have engineered dark-horse runs at Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper in recent years, suggesting they’re willing to break the bank for a premiere slugger. Soto sure would fit, and Farhan Zaidi knows a thing or two about chasing down superstars from his time as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers front office. The reality is the Giants would likely have to leverage their financial situation by taking on a lot of bad money in order to make a reasonable deal with the Nationals. 

6. Seattle Mariners

Top prospects: The Mariners have graduated a number of highly touted youngsters in recent years, but they still have a blue chipper in the form of shortstop Noelvi Marte, CBS Sports’ No. 11 prospect entering the spring. He’s performed well in High-A despite playing the entire season at age 20, and he has the kind of big-time power that is rare from a player with a chance to stick at the six for the long haul. Marte is the only Mariners prospect who would crack our top 20. Nevertheless, the smooth-fielding Edwin Arroyo is another promising shortstop who had boosters in last year’s draft thanks in part to his youth; he won’t turn 19 until next month, near the conclusion of his first full pro season. The Mariners could also offer recent first-round picks like right-hander Emerson Hancock or catcher Harry Ford. 

Relevant MLB youngsters: The Nationals would be justified to ask the Mariners for center fielder Julio Rodríguez, but we’d file that as unlikely. Rodríguez has turned himself into a passable center fielder, and he did so without losing the offensive skill set that should make him a middle-of-the-order fixture. The Mariners could theoretically offer one of their other pre-arb outfielders, like Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, or Taylor Trammell, but each have red flags to their games that make them less intriguing than Rodríguez. The more enticing, and perhaps more realistic route for the Nationals would be to request one of Seattle’s young starting pitchers, with George Kirby appearing to be more expendable than Logan Gilbert. Perhaps the Nationals would take a shot on infielder Abraham Toro, whose long-awaited breakout season may never come. 

Payroll situation: The Mariners, by virtue of having so many young players on the roster, entered the season with a lower Opening Day payroll than what they had in 2007. They’re more than $90 million away from the tax line, and they have just two long-term commitments (those belonging to Robbie Ray and J.P. Crawford) with an AAV that exceeds $10 million. They should be able to pony up, be it by taking on dead money or by signing a player to a lucrative long-term contract, as desired. 

X-factor: Jerry Dipoto loves to trade, but he’s seldom shown a willingness to engage at the top of the market. Maybe he’ll change his mind now that the Mariners have a real chance at making the playoffs for the first time since 2001? 

5. New York Mets

Top prospects: The Mets traded their 2020 first-round pick, outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong last deadline. They dug into their farm system again to obtain Chris Bassitt over the winter. Even so, the Mets have several intriguing prospects they could float the Nationals’ way. That includes catcher Francisco Álvarez and third baseman Brett Baty. Álvarez is one of, if not the top catching prospect in the minors — a distinction that might cause the Nationals to value him in a way they wouldn’t with other catchers who are more similar in value to Keibert Ruiz. Baty, meanwhile, seems like a given to be promoted to Triple-A at some point sooner than later. Outfielder Alex Ramirez, infielders Ronny Mauricio and Matt Vietos, and right-hander Matt Allan could be used to fill out a package. (For those wondering, MLB’s rules prohibit teams from trading draft picks so soon, meaning the Mets’ recent first-round picks, catcher Kevin Parada and shortstop Jett Williams, are off limits.)

Relevant MLB youngsters: The Mets don’t have a single hitter or starting pitcher on their active roster who is younger than 27 years old. (Even Tylor Megill, currently on the injured list, has already blown out 27 candles.) There’s no sense belaboring the point, but that means the Mets would have to lean heavily on their farm system.

Payroll situation: The Mets have the highest payroll in the majors, and they’re all but certain to exceed the tax line by $60 million, a threshold installed specifically because of owner Steve Cohen. How much higher is Cohen willing to push? It’s a good question. We should get an answer on that front sooner than later, independent of their pursuit of Soto. That’s because the Mets have to resolve the looming free agency of two of their better pitchers, ace Jacob deGrom and closer Edwin Diaz, and do so with minimum money coming off the books.

X-factor: The biggest hurdle facing the Mets, in our opinion, is the likelihood that the Nationals would not want to trade Soto within the NL East. If that’s the case, there might not be a package the Mets could offer that would change the Nationals’ mind. The same could be true if the Nationals are insistent on getting back at least one player who has already achieved some level of big-league success.

4. New York Yankees

Top prospects: One of the main reported reasons the Yankees didn’t sign Carlos Correa or Corey Seager was their belief in their collection of young infield prospects. Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza both authored breakout efforts last year and emerged as the top prospects on the farm. (New York also has Alexander Vargas and Oswald Cabrera.) Both have their share of merits; we’d summarize their games like this: Volpe has the higher offensive ceiling while Peraza is more certain to remain at shortstop. The Yankees have some other interesting prospects of note, such as outfielders Everson Pereira and Jasson Dominguez and pitchers Ken Waldichuk and Yoendrys Gómez among them. If they’re going to make a deal, it’s going to be because they came off their long-term plans at shortstop.

Relevant MLB youngsters: Infielder Gleyber Torres is the only member of the Yankees roster that we think makes sense for inclusion here. He’s back on track after a rough 2021 season and he’s only 25 years old, but he too will qualify for free agency after the 2024 season and the Nationals might prefer someone with more staying power.

Payroll situation: The Yankees are close to $30 million over the tax line based on current estimates, and they’re running a substantially higher payroll than they did last year. It’s unclear if Hal Steinbrenner has the stomach to go even higher, and perhaps up into Dodgers and Mets territory. Of course, he might not have to in order for the Yankees to have the requisite financial flexibility. Aaron Judge, Aroldis Chapman, and Zack Britton — owed a combined $49 million this season — will hit the open market come winter. Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo could follow suit next winter, too, giving the Yankees another $31 million to play with.

X-factor: The Yankees have their own extension-rejecting outfielder situation to deal with, in the form of the aforementioned Judge. There’s legitimate baseball reason to prefer a long-term commitment to Soto over Judge, but it might be tricky for the Yankees to pull off in-season, especially given how well Judge is playing. It’s also anyone’s guess as to whether or not the Yankees would move on from Volpe and/or Peraza now, less than a year after anointing them as the future.

3. San Diego Padres

Top prospects: We’re including infielder C.J. Abrams in the MLB section, meaning San Diego’s top prospects of note are catcher Luis Campusano, outfielders Robert Hassell and James Wood, and shortstop Jackson Merrill. It’s possible Campusano may not appeal to the Nationals, who traded for Keibert Ruiz last deadline. That puts a lot of pressure on their evaluations of Hassell, Wood, and Merrill, each interesting in their own ways: Hassell as a pure hitter; Wood as a massive human being with good power and speed; and Merrill as a shortstop with an above-average or better hit tool. It’s conceivable that Nationals would ask the Padres to front their offer with a player from the big-league roster instead.

Relevant MLB youngsters: The aforementioned Abrams and resurgent lefty MacKenzie Gore are the top draws here. Abrams came into the season ranked as a top-10 prospect based on his potential plus bat and top-notch speed. He hasn’t performed well in The Show, but that’s understandable given his age (he’s 21) and the fact that he’s still played in fewer than 162 games above A-ball. Gore has salvaged his career after dealing with a bout of the yips. He’s currently in San Diego’s bullpen, though he’s started in 13 of his 15 appearances this year. You can envision a scenario where the Nationals find themselves intrigued by outfielder Esteury Ruiz or lefty Adrian Morejon, who continues to work his way back from last April’s Tommy John surgery.

Payroll situation: The Padres entered the season with a payroll north of $200 million for the first time in franchise history. They’re also over the tax line as it stands, a move they’d been weary about in the past. The Padres have a lot of money coming off the books over the next couple winters, including Wil Myers’ this winter, giving them wiggle room to make another big addition. The catch is that they’ll have to essentially rebuild their rotation along the way, which complicates matters.

X-factor: Our original reservations were about the Padres’ willingness to go deep into the tax, something that sources had told us they were concerned about dating back to last deadline. We have to concede that A.J. Preller is as bold and as opportunistic as any general manager in the game; if someone is going to convince his ownership group to OK an above-and-beyond offer to land Soto — and then to extend him for the long term — it may end up being him. Besides, Preller can sell his owners on keeping Soto away from some of the other teams in the division. 

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Top prospects: Catcher Diego Cartaya is held as the Dodgers’ top prospect, but the Nationals might not have as much interest in him after trading for his former system teammate, Keibert Ruiz, at last year’s deadline. That leaves the likes of right-hander Bobby Miller and third baseman Miguel Vargas dueling for the top spot here. Miller has electric stuff, but he’s thrown 70 innings across 16 starts this season, suggesting he can’t be viewed as a traditional starting pitching prospect just yet. The Dodgers could offer some interesting talent to fill out the package, including right-hander Ryan Pepiot, outfielder Andy Pages, and infielder Michael Busch. Pepiot has already debuted in the majors this season. He possesses a top-notch changeup. 

Relevant MLB youngsters: This section is about two players, at most. Utility starter Gavin Lux is having a big season for the Dodgers after botching a few launch attempts the past few seasons. He’s doing so while splitting time between the infield and outfield. Right-hander Dustin May has not pitched in the majors since undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer. In just over 100 career big-league innings, he’s amassed a 146 ERA+ and a 4.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Parting with either would hurt, but that pain might be worth it when the return is a player of Soto’s standing.

Payroll situation: The Dodgers are already sporting the second-highest CBT payroll in the majors, about $15 million behind the Mets. They have more flexibility than it may sound, however, based on the slew of contracts they have expiring at season’s end. Trea Turner, David Price, Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, and Max Muncy could all theoretically be out the door — as could Cody Bellinger. It stands to reason the Dodgers will retain some of those individuals, but if they wanted to reset their books, say to make room for another huge extension, they certainly could.

X-factor: Andrew Friedman helped usher in the Cult of Efficiency, but a difference between him and some of his peers is that he seems to still prioritize World Series titles above all. That led him to take advantage of a somewhat similar situation with Mookie Betts a few seasons ago, and it could have him chomping at the bit here. The key for the Dodgers’ pursuit might be their (un)willingness to part with either Lux and/or May as part of the proceedings.

1. St. Louis Cardinals

Top prospects: The Cardinals have two of the most promising position prospects in the minors, in third baseman Jordan Walker and shortstop Masyn Winn. Walker has elite raw power and he’s crushing the ball in Double-A as a 20-year-old. If and when he begins to lift the ball more frequently, he’s going to solidify himself as one of the top middle-of-the-order prospects in the game. Winn, also 20, is holding his own in Double-A. He could be an above-average hitter and fielder at maturation. The Cardinals could also submit lefty Matthew Liberatore, outfielder Alec Burleson, and catcher Ivan Herrera to the Nationals. Each is either big-league ready or has already made their big-league debut. (Though Herrera, like the other catching prospects mentioned throughout the article, would likely have less appeal to the Nationals.)

Relevant MLB youngsters: The Cardinals have several young players on their MLB roster who could appeal to the Nationals as well. Second baseman Nolan Gorman has near-elite raw power and has made a successful transition from the hot corner to the keystone. Outfielders Harrison Bader (a defensive demon in center), Tyler O’Neill (a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who received Most Valuable Player Award consideration last fall), and Dylan Carlson would all make some sense. To think, that’s without even pondering if the Cardinals would move either member of their current double-play combination, Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan. 

Payroll situation: The Cardinals have more than $50 million in breathing room between themselves and the tax line. Their Opening Day payroll was also $9 million lower than it was last season, suggesting it’s reasonable to project them to add salary. It’s reasonable to wonder how much they could upscale, but bear in mind that Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina are both expected to retire this winter, freeing nearly $30 million that’s been earmarked for them in the process.

X-factor: There’s no perfect parallel for the Soto situation, but the Cardinals have waded into the deep waters in the past to land Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. (Goldschmidt’s contract, by the way, expires the same winter that Soto becomes a free agent, meaning the Cardinals will have additional flexibility at the perfect time.) The Cardinals can offer the Nationals a compelling combination of top-end prospects and established MLB players, and they should have the means of absorbing a bad contract if that’s what it takes to get a deal done.