The San Diego Padres' plans for the offseason are a bit murky, but once again, the Philadelphia Phillies are being linked to one of their star players.
On Nov. 5, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that general managers think the Padres will keep outfielder Juan Soto this offseason to maximize a return around the 2024 trade deadline.
However, many reporters, like Buster Olney of ESPN, expect the star to be in a different uniform ahead of Opening Day:
Why are the Padres considering trading Juan Soto?
After going on a spending spree and having the third-highest payroll in 2023 at $256 million, according to Spotrac, there were signs that the organization spent more than it could handle.
According to Evan Drellich, Dennis Lin, and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, San Diego had to take out a $50 million loan in September:
Adding to the financial troubles, Alden González of ESPN reported that the team generated less broadcast revenue after MLB had to take over for Bally Sports when the company declined to keep the partnership active.
Now, the Padres have to either go all-in to return to the postseason or look to capitalize on players who could generate a hefty trade return.
With Soto expected to earn over $30 million in his last year of arbitration and in line to get a massive contract after, it’s not too far-fetched to assume the Padres — who will likely lose pitchers Blake Snell, Josh Hader, and Nick Martinez this offseason — will need to invest that money elsewhere.
The Padres are reportedly trying to get their payroll down to around $200 million for 2024 to help fix their debt service ratio, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
That leaves option No. 2.
Are the Phillies contenders for a Soto trade?
According to Kyle Glaser of Baseball America, the Phillies are in the top five teams that would have the ability to pull off the trade.
Glaser noted that the organization can offer up center fielder Johan Rojas and starting pitcher Mick Abel and then use infielders Starlyn Caba, Bryan Rincon, and William Bergolla to help round out the deal.
Rojas, who flashed his speed and defense at the MLB level, has a bright future. While his offense disappeared in the postseason, in 59 regular-season games, Rojas had a .302 average with 45 hits, 23 RBI and 14 stolen bases.
Abel is the Phillies' second-highest-ranked prospect (No. 45 in all of MLB) and is expected to arrive in the big leagues sometime in 2024. Between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, the right-hander had a 4.13 ERA with 65 walks and 132 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings across 23 starts last season. In his last 27 2/3 innings, the 22-year-old posted a 1.63 ERA and held opposing batters to a .141 average while striking out 29.
Caba is a 17-year-old shortstop who hit .301 with 17 RBI, 16 stolen bases, 28 walks, and 16 strikeouts in 38 games in the Dominican Summer League. Rincon, a 19-year-old shortstop, slashed .234/.368/.361 with eight home runs, 52 RBI, 27 stolen bases, 68 walks, and 76 strikeouts in 99 games between Single-A Clearwater and High-A Jersey Shore in 2023. Nineteen-year-old infielder Bergolla saw action in 55 games in Clearwater last season, hitting .255 with 20 RBI, 30 walks, and 17 strikeouts a year after slashing .380/.470/.423 in the Dominican Summer League.
While Glaser stopped there, it's likely the Padres would want at least one more top prospect in return, but this proposed move would give the Phillies Soto in left field, Brandon Marsh in center, and Nick Castellanos in right.
Soto, who turned 25 in October, set a career high with 35 home runs in 2023 and led the league with 132 walks while slashing .275/.410/.519 in a full 162-game season. His 109 RBI were the second-most of his career.
Across his six years in the big leagues, he has slashed an impressive .284/.421/.524 with 160 home runs, 483 RBI, 640 walks, and 577 strikeouts in 779 games. That includes a .287 average with runners in scoring position. He has finished in the top nine in MVP voting four times, has four Silver Slugger Awards and is a three-time All-Star.
This is not the first time there has been speculation about Soto — who has ties to Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, and hitting coach Kevin Long from his days with the Washington Nationals — and Philadelphia.
Soto will be under team control for one more season before being eligible to become a free agent in 2025.
As things stand now, Spotrac has the Phillies' 2024 payroll at an estimated $210.3 million. However, regardless of how unlikely this trade would be, don't expect payroll to be a roadblock if the organization wants to make a deal happen.
When talking about Phillies managing partner John Middleton after the season, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told Todd Zolecki of MLB.com: "I've talked preliminarily with John. ... I would be surprised if we don't have the finances to support what we need to do."
With Soto, it comes down to a decision between what the Phillies want versus what they need most this offseason. That distinction likely leaves Soto out of their plans.