Over the last week here at Ess Tee El Bull Pen Dot Com, I have spent quite a bit of time reinforcing the idea that Juan Soto is really, really good at baseball, and that any baseball team would love to have him on their team. And now, it’s time for me to find out just how much I want him on the St. Louis Cardinals.
BaseballTradeValues.com has exploded in popularity over the last week (Bill Simmons voice, “Is Baseball Trade Values having a moment?”) as fans have aggressively tried to figure out a way to get Juan Soto to their favorite team. And now I’m going to do the same.
First though, there are two basic frameworks for how these trades are built, and it all comes down to Patrick Corbin.
Corbin, 33, was a two-time All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks before signing a six-year, $140 million contract with the Washington Nationals prior to the 2019 season. In 2019, he was really good and was a formidable third banana behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the Nationals’ championship-winning rotation. In 2020, he was, I don’t know, fine I guess–a 4.66 ERA and 4.17 FIP is hardly ideal, but you can live with it. But in 2021 and 2022, Patrick Corbin has been absolutely awful, with a 5.82 ERA last season and a 5.87 FIP this season. And he is still owed nearly $60 million for the 2023 and 2024 seasons (he could be owed more if he reaches award-based incentives that the Nationals would be thrilled to pay given his current awfulness).
There has been intense speculation since the Juan Soto trade rumors started that the Nationals want to pair Soto, an incredible value as a player with two years of salary arbitration remaining, with Corbin, a player that the Nationals would clearly like to off-load for salary relief. While BTV estimates Juan Soto as worth $176.8 million to the Nationals (or any hypothetical team), it estimates Corbin, ineffective and overpaid, as worth negative $54.9 million, by far a worse albatross than any player on the Cardinals (Steven Matz is estimated at negative $19 million, though both pale in comparison to Stephen Strasburg, estimated at negative $151.2 million).
Speaking as the guy who doesn’t sign the checks for the Cardinals, I would happily accept Patrick Corbin on the Cardinals if it lessened the player cost of acquiring Juan Soto. I don’t think Corbin is very good anymore, but I can squint at his 4.65 FIP and see a pitcher who could be rehabilitated to, if not still an overpay, at least a serviceable MLB arm. But realistically, I think it would be much harder to convince Cardinals ownership to add Soto and Corbin–that would be over $40 million in 2022 salaries alone, with Corbin assured to increase and Soto all but contractually assured to increase as well. Heck, I could just take Strasburg too and ask the Nationals to also throw in another good player, but I’m living in a fantasy at that point. Let’s just try to get Soto–I don’t think it would take long to convince Bill DeWitt Jr. to accept his likely $20 million-plus 2023 and 2024 salaries given the caliber of player we are discussing.
The Cardinals do not have a player of Soto’s value, but they do have three players who stand head and shoulders above the rest–Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman, and Jordan Walker.
It would be impossible to acquire Soto without parting with at least one of these players, and probably two. But the first name to address is the player deemed to have the most value–Dylan Carlson–as he fits two categories worth investigating–high-end prospects (see above) and redundant outfielders. And that is why he is a no-brainer for my proposal.
Let me be clear–I would rather give up Tyler O’Neill or Harrison Bader than Dylan Carlson. But in trading Juan Soto, the Nationals are essentially conceding that they will not be competitive in 2023. This means Harrison Bader will reach free agency before the Nationals are any good anymore–even if they believed they could compete sooner, the presence of a similarly-styled center fielder in Víctor Robles, a glove-first speedster, likely diminishes what they perceive as Bader’s worth to the team. Tyler O’Neill makes more sense than Bader, but he will become a free agent when Soto does. Dylan Carlson, however, is far more likely to match the Nationals’ competitive timeline, as he will not reach free agency until after the 2026 season. And while Carlson has been a mild disappointment so far as a big leaguer, in that he hasn’t been a true superstar, he has been a solid hitter and is still only 23 (granted, he is two days older than Juan Soto). As an added bonus from the Cardinals’ perspective, trading Carlson would allow Soto to easily slot into right field, where he has played exclusively over the last two seasons.
Carlson gets me almost halfway to Juan Soto, but unless I am planning on just absolutely gutting my farm system of all of its depth, it will be much easier to include Jordan Walker or Nolan Gorman–from that point forward, I can be quite a bit more artful when determining whom to include. For both players, natural third basemen, the presence of Nolan Arenado complicates things a bit for them, but Nolan Gorman has demonstrated competence at second base, whereas Jordan Walker has remained at third base throughout his (brief) minor league career. Jordan Walker probably has more upside, but he is also a AA player; Nolan Gorman has been an above-average hitter in the big leagues while barely over 22. I’m going to include Jordan Walker. Do I want to give up Dylan Carlson and Jordan Walker for Juan Soto? I don’t want to, no, but in some ways, that’s the point. This exercise is supposed to hurt. And I still have 37.7 points to go.
I could finish things up by adding Nolan Gorman, and maybe even get a little sweetener from the Nationals, but keeping Gorman’s ability at second base around, given how often Tommy Edman has been moved to shortstop, is valuable, so I’m looking now at second-tier, or even third-tier, trade targets. For reference, here is the next crop–guys who can’t even out the trade alone but are at least getting us within spitting distance.
Some of these names are more realistic than others, of course–I don’t think Paul Goldschmidt is getting traded, for instance (though it would certainly be a way to carve out the budget room, I say while being rightfully pelted with tomatoes). There is some temptation, surely, to trade Matthew Liberatore, given his early struggles with the Cardinals, but this would be a classic sell-low move–this is a guy who until fairly recently was considered a comparable prospect to Nolan Gorman. Masyn Winn could be considered expendable if I viewed Tommy Edman as the long-term fix at shortstop, but I’m not quite at that point (also, I do not want to write Gorman in at second base in pen, as Nolan Arenado Opt-Out Insurance).
The name of this group that stands out to me is Alec Burleson, a bit of an anti-Liberatore in that the Cardinals would be selling high on him. Burleson’s regard among prospect-watchers has increased dramatically in 2022 thanks to a .936 OPS in 337 plate appearances with the AAA Memphis Redbirds, though last season, his OPS was a less enthralling .783 split among three levels. Burleson, who is precisely one month younger than Juan Soto, was making his professional debut in 2021, so I’m willing to accept that with a grain of salt, but it’s hard for me to see him as the thing that stops me from trading for Juan Soto. And suddenly, I have just 18.3 in Trade Value to go.
I could part with Gordon Graceffo and call it a day, and if it were my only option I would have to at least think about it, but given the high-end prospect types I’ve given up so far, I’m willing to try to get a little greedy. As I addressed before, I don’t think the Nationals, especially after acquiring Carlson already, would have much use for Harrison Bader beyond “a guy they can trade for some actual long-term pieces”, so I’ll skip him on the latest roster breakdown. Here’s some guys.
It is tempting to sell high (if not as high as a month ago) on Brendan Donovan, a guy who got off to a scalding start but has a relatively whimpering .215/.329/.292 AVG/OBP/SLG line over the last month, but instead, I am looking towards the middle and at Edmundo Sosa. Despite his offensive struggles in 2022, the defensive metrics do love Edmundo Sosa, but the key here is lack of flexibility. Unlike Paul DeJong, the Cardinals don’t have the option to send Edmundo Sosa to the minors to improve, because he is out of minor league options. Given that Sosa has shown flashes of excellence and will still make the league minimum through next season, he makes sense as a potential Nationals reclamation project. 11.7 to go.
Sadly, it is now time to part with a pitcher. It is time for the Nationals to diversify their portfolio. And at the top of the board of guys who would mostly do it are Tink Hence and Michael McGreevy. These are both really strong prospects; Hence, 19, has a sub-2 ERA with the A-level Palm Beach Cardinals, while McGreevy, 22, the team’s first-round draft pick from 2021, has a sub-4 ERA with the Springfield Cardinals in his first full season as a professional. Ultimately, McGreevy, who pitched in college and has faced tougher competition, is the safer bet, but the allure of Tink Hence is too much for me to resist. I’m adding McGreevy. 0.5 to go.
There is precisely one player with a 0.5 value in the Cardinals’ organization, and I’m going to go ahead and go with him–Jose Davila. The 19 year-old Venezuelan pitcher has pitched well so far in 2022 in the Florida Complex League, with a 1.78 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. Impressive numbers, but still very much a lottery ticket.
So to recap, here is my trade:
Cardinals get: OF Juan Soto
Nationals get: OF/1B Alec Burleson, OF Dylan Carlson, RHP Jose Davila, RHP Michael McGreevy, IF Edmundo Sosa, 3B Jordan Walker
This trade would be a risk. It would mean giving up a ton of interesting prospects and some players who are helpful to the Cardinals right now. But that’s how a Juan Soto trade is going to work. It’s not going to be easy. But consider that the Cardinals could, if this trade happens, take the field this October with the following lineup, including my unrealistic theories on how the batting order should be arranged: