In the build up to baseball’s Winter Meetings, which start this Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee, all eyes are on Shohei Ohtani and where his camp decides his transcendent talent will call home for the next 10+ years. With the Blue Jays clearly in the mix, fans are nervously hopeful he could transform the team into a World Series contender with the stroke of a pen on a record $500M+ free agent contract.
But the Ohtani sweepstakes have put a large number of superstar and MVP-type players on the back burner of the offseason ‘hot stove’, with free agents like Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Josh Hader all still available as franchise-altering talents.
The trade market for superstars is also robust in a relatively thin market for elite position players: Juan Soto, Alex Bregman, Pete Alonso, Christian Yelich and Bo Bichette have all seen their names in the rumour mill, as have ace-type starters like starting pitchers Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow, Dylan Cease, Alek Manoah and Shane Bieber.
With all of the excitement around the Blue Jays being a finalist for Ohtani’s services, some fans may have missed that Toronto has also been named by multiple baseball insiders as a potential destination for a one-year rental on three-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Juan Soto. GM Ross Atkins has said he’s open to trading for rental players.
Acquired by the San Diego Padres at the 2022 trade deadline for three top-100 prospects at the time (CJ Abrams, James Wood and Robert Hassell III), plus lefty MacKenzie Gore who was a consensus top-ten prospect ahead of the 2021 season, and lottery prospect Jarlin Susana, Soto remains a generational talent.
As a 20-year-old, he helped the Washington Nationals to the 2019 World Series championship, with 3 home runs, 7 RBI and a 1.178 OPS in the fall classic.
Now 25, Soto appears to be available again this offseason with only one year of team control left before he becomes a free agent. MLBTR projects him winning $33M in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and he’ll surely be seeking a $40M AAV deal like Aaron Judge’s 9-year, $360M free agent contract. He already turned down a 15-year, $440M offer when he was with the Nationals, and is believed to be looking for $500M plus deal with a much higher AAV.
Anthony Franco of MLBTR sees the Blue Jays as one of the best fits for a Soto trade, suggesting that “the Jays could slide Daulton Varsho to center field to plug Soto into left.” He notes that Toronto is “around $24M shy of next year’s base luxury tax threshold [of $237M], [so acquiring] Soto would push them into CBT territory, which they were willing to do this past season.”
The NY post reports that the New York Yankees and Padres have exchanged names in trade talks for Soto, with reliever-turned-starter Michael King, Drew Thorpe (the 99th ranked prospect in MLB Pipeline’s top-100), Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez all mentioned as players the Padres have interest in.
The willingness of the Yankees to take on Soto’s full arbitration salary in 2024 while surrendering players is also important in the case of the Blue Jays, because Toronto’s GM Ross Atkins has noted a willingness to “be nimble” and spend on the right players. They could certainly take on his full salary.
Theo DeRosa of MLB.com presents six trade proposals for Soto here, including a Jays deal as follows:
Blue Jays get: Juan Soto, Eguy Rosario
Padres get: Danny Jansen, Orelvis Martinez (MLB's No. 88 prospect), Brandon Barriera (Blue Jays’ No. 4 prospect), Alan Roden (Blue Jays’ No. 7 prospect)
Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic (subscription required) also suggests that the Jays are in on Soto. Citing her colleague Dennis Lin’s excellent work on Soto here, she notes “Soto is a perfect fit for the Blue Jays, who need a left fielder and someone who gives them an offensive lift from the left side of the plate. Not to mention, Soto would give the Blue Jays three of the best young players in the game right now alongside Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Think of the marketing opportunities.“
Lin also wrote that the Padres are likely looking at “exchanging the outfielder for multiple big-league-ready players.” That being the case, McGrath says, “the Blue Jays may have to trade two to four players, potentially including top pitching prospect Ricky Tiedemann, who is on the cusp of the majors.“ Tiedemann is the No. 31 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s top-100 ranking.
So the asking price is steep. But would a year of Soto be worth it with the Blue Jays competitive window closing? Both Vladdy and Bo are potential free agents in two years after the 2025 season, along with Chris Bassitt, Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza and Erik Swanson. Danny Jansen and Yusei Kikuchi are pending free agents after the upcoming season.
As McGrath notes, “[Soto] sports a career .421 on-base percentage and has never posted a year-ending OPS lower than .853.” Defensively he’s not great at a DRS of -6 this past season in 154 games in left field, but he would be helped by Daulton Varsho’s outstanding defence in center field (DRS of +18 in 462.1 innings in CF in 2023).
He certainly fills the Blue Jays need for more thump, coming off a third All-Star season where he finished 6th in NL MVP voting and won his 4th Silver Slugger award. He played a full-162 game schedule, hammering 35 home runs and 109 RBI, all while walking a career high 132 times with an OPS of .930 and OPS+ of 158, i.e. 58% above the MLB average.
Those numbers would have led Toronto in all categories. He’s also walked 412 times since 2021, leading the National League in walks in each of the past three seasons.
What he would also do is provide protection in the line-up for Springer, Bichette and Guerrero, much like Teoscar Hernandez did previously; and, as a left-handed slugger, he would guarantee more tough pitching matchups and ‘in game’ managerial decisions for opposing managers than the current roster, which lost lefty swinging Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier to free agency.
With a legitimate opportunity to acquire MVP talents like Ohtani and Soto, the Blue Jays front office is clearly working hard this offseason to strengthen the 2024 roster. Jays fans can certainly be giddy about a potential batting order that adds one (or both?!) of these franchise altering talents and would vault the Blue Jays into contention for World Series favourite next season.