As we cross over the midway point of the baseball season, two major questions still need to be answered: Where is Juan Soto going to be playing? And when and how is Jacob deGrom going to be playing?
Taking the first one first because after Soto turned down the Nationals’ 15-year $440 million offer last weekend that’s all everyone in baseball is talking about. How could he and what’s next now? Once you understand the modus operandi of Soto’s agent Scott Boras, whose objectives all along have been to make Soto the highest paid player in the history of baseball with an AAV well to the north of Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million, it’s easy to see why the Nationals’ offer, while staggering in its totality, was well below what it was going to take to keep the 23-year-old pre-eminent hitter in baseball from going year-to-year in arbitration until he becomes a free agent after the 2024 season. The contract was heavily backloaded, with an AAV of $29.9M, which is already topped by 20 other players.
Once Soto rejected the offer, the Nationals, whose owners, the Lerner family, have put the team up for sale, announced they would now entertain offers for him, albeit making it clear they would have to be substantial offers in which bidding clubs should be prepared to gut their farm systems of their top prospects. Ordinarily most clubs would be loath to consider any such thing for one player. But, as everyone agrees, Soto is a very special player, only 23, and the thought of having three bites at the postseason apple with him, has whetted the appetites of at least a seven clubs (that we know of) – the Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Padres and Mariners – to step up to the plate with the keys to their farm systems.
According to one Nationals insider who was initially skeptical the team would actually trade Soto rather than letting the new owners make that decision, interest has been so aggressive he’d now be surprised if they don’t deal him. The flip side to keeping Soto would be to present the new owners with 3-4 can’t miss prospects filling multiple positions as soon as next year.
One other “must” the Nationals have told prospective bidders is that Patrick Corbin and the remaining 2 ½ years and $70 million on his contract be included in any deal. Ordinarily that would be a deal breaker for most clubs right there, but again Soto is a special player and the Nationals are holding all the cards here.
In the high stakes game of dueling farm systems, from the Yankees it’s probably going to cost at least three of their top prospects among the shortstops, Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, outfielder Jasson Dominguez or catcher Austin Wells. Plus I’m told the Nationals have interest in Gleyber Torres. Now if George Steinbrenner was still alive you could be sure no prospect ask could be too much to land a marquee slugger like Soto, but it’s uncertain how Hal Steinbrenner feels about emptying out the cream of his farm system — although losing two more games to the Astros Thursday, mostly due to a lack of hitting, might influence his thinking.
From the Cardinals, the Nats want third baseman Jordan Walker, their No. 1 prospect, plus shortstop Masyn Winn, first baseman Luken Baker or lefthander Connor Thomas. From the Padres, 6-7 outfielder James Wood is said to be the Nats’ top target plus outfielder Robert Hassell III, their No. 1 prospect, infielder Eguy Rosario, shortstop C.J. Abrams (who’s already up with them) and rookie lefthander MacKenzie Gore, who’s presently their No. 5 starter.
If any team could be considered the favorite in the Soto sweepstakes it might be the Dodgers, whose president, Stan Kasten, hired Nats GM Mike Rizzo when he was running Washington. They’re still very close and the Dodgers can put together a pretty enticing package from among top prospects: catcher Diego Cartaya, infielder Miguel Vargas, and slugging Cuban infielder Miguel Vargas and, on their major league roster, second baseman Gavin Lux.
Even though Soto reportedly (via Jonathan Papelbon) said he loves playing in New York and would like to be with the Mets, I’m told, beyond Francisco Alvarez, the Mets don’t have near the quality prospects as the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Padres. Same for the Giants and Mariners.
As for the ever-so-fragile deGrom, who supposedly completed another 60-pitch simulated game Thursday with no ill effects from his shoulder issue, the word is his return to the Mets is near. You’ll forgive Buck Showalter if he’s not projecting a deGrom return date just yet. “I’ve never counted on him,” Showalter said. “I’m not interested in simulated games. I’d like to see him pitch at least five innings against Triple A hitters before we bring him up here.”
In the meantime, Showalter’s top priority as the trading deadline nears remains a lefthanded reliever. Privately, he knows the Mets also need a quality bat almost as much but it’s questionable as to whether they have the prospect capital to get an Ian Happ from the Cubs or even Trey Mancini from the Orioles – which is why they accelerated discussions with the Pirates for Daniel Vogelbach, who will be a platoon DH.
IT’S A MADD, MADD WORLD
I’m hearing it was Vladmir Guerrero Jr. who put the final nail in Charlie Montoyo’s coffin as Blue Jays manager after an angry exchange between the two over a failed challenge call in a game against the Phillies July 12. That night Montoyo challenged a safe call on a pickoff attempt at first base on the Phillies Matt Vierling even though Guerrero yelled to the dugout not to do it. As a result, the Jays were unable to challenge two subsequent calls they clearly would have won, and afterward Guerrero had to be physically restrained from physically confronting Montoyo in the dugout. According to sources, he later went to the front office and demanded Montoyo be fired … Most all the scouts and draft analysists think the Orioles got it right making the Stillwater, OK shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of former All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday, the overall No. 1 pick. Even though he’s only 18, scouts think Holliday has the five-tool ability and maturity to stay at shortstop and be in the big leagues in two years. This will mean the Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles’ No. 2 prospect will be moving permanently from shortstop to third base. And speaking of Henderson, an apology is due here to Dean Albany, the scout who signed Henderson. Albany was mistakenly referred to as Dean ‘Anthony’ here last week. He had been with the Orioles for 20 years in various scouting and player development capacities and personally pushed for GM Mike Elias to use their No. 2 pick on Henderson out of high school in 2019. Henderson is presently hitting .294 with 13 HR and 54 RBI at AA and AAA and on track to be the Orioles’ third baseman next year. As for Albany, not long after the 2019 draft, his reward was to be fired by Elias and he’s now the national cross checker for the Phillies. Again our apologies to Mr. Albany, still one of the most respected scouts in the business.