What does the San Diego Padres trading Juan Soto mean to the Dodgers and the rest of the National League West?
Well, the Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks — teams with legitimate playoff expectations in 2024 — just improved their chances.
The Padres went into the 2023 season as the favorites. The Dodgers were expected to take a step backward. No one except maybe team mascot Baxter the Bobcat predicted the Diamondbacks would win the NL pennant.
Instead, San Diego underperformed, going 82-80. The Dodgers posted a 100-win regular season for the fifth time in the last six full seasons before — again — getting bounced from the playoffs, this time by the upstart Diamondbacks.
The Padres would never admit to retrenching, but trading Soto and center fielder Trent Grisham to the Yankees on Wednesday night for five players became almost a necessity.
Why? Soto has one year of arbitration remaining before becoming a free agent. San Diego’s farm system was stocked with prospects only a few years ago, but many were traded to make a run at the Dodgers.
Just to acquire Soto and first baseman Josh Bell at the 2022 trade deadline, the Padres parted with shortstop CJ Abrams, pitchers MacKenzie Gore and Jarlin Susana, outfield prospects James Wood and Robert Hassell and first baseman Luke Voit. Abrams, the Nationals everyday shortstop, and Gore, a mid-rotation starter, already are established major leaguers.
Today the Padres’ farm system is ranked No. 11 by FanGraphs, below the Dodgers (No. 6) and Diamondbacks (No. 10). Acquiring major league starters Michael King, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, along with top pitching prospect Drew Thorpe and veteran backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, from the Yankees lessens the price paid for Soto, who played well but not otherworldly in San Diego.
And make no mistake, Soto, 25, is expected to be otherworldly. In his first four seasons after breaking into the big leagues at age 19 with the Washington Nationals in 2018, the left-handed hitting outfielder posted an exceptional slash line of .301/.432/.550.
His production the last two years dipped to .259/406/.487, but he hit 23 of his 35 home runs on the road in 2023. StatCast ranked Petco Park as the 26th best stadium for left-handed batters’ production over the last three seasons. Yankee Stadium? Second best.
Soto still reaches base at an elite level, makes contact at an elite level and mashed a career-high 35 home runs in 2023. He’s a below-average outfielder and makes mistakes on the basepaths, but the realization that he will bat immediately ahead or behind premier slugger Aaron Judge in the lineup and take aim at the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium is staggering.
The Yankees, like the Padres, are coming off a disappointing 82-80 season. Adding Soto will give a jolt to the offense and to the fan base, and should he flourish in 2024, they won’t blush at doing everything possible to keep him in New York on a long-term deal.
It will take Yankees-like resources. Because of his youth, Soto is expected to command a free-agent deal a year from now that could rival what Shohei Ohtani will be paid any day.
All of which makes the Padres’ decision to trade Soto now a reasonable one. Assuming free-agent pitcher Blake Snell signs elsewhere, San Diego will head to spring training having lost a Cy Young Award-winning starter along with a lineup mainstay.
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks won’t shed any tears.
Source: LA Times