Things went south in SoCal this season.
Despite a seeming super team, the San Diego Padres middled out to just an 82-80 record and missed the MLB playoffs. If you don't even make the playoffs with a $255 million payroll, offseason change is inevitable. The Padres have already moved on from manager Bob Melvin and there are rumours that some big trades could be coming.
With a year away from free agency, Juan Soto is one of those names floated on the trade market. But, trading Soto would be a mistake:
A 2024 Turnaround is Inevitable In San Diego
The biggest reason the Padres shouldn’t trade Soto is because they’re going to be a really good baseball team next year — the type of team that should be trying to get players like Soto, not lose them.
Sure, 82 wins doesn't inspire much confidence. But the Padres were maybe the unluckiest team in baseball history. They posted an expected record of 92-70, lost 10 extra-inning games, went 6-19 in one-run contests, and posted a run differential more in line with a division winner than a .500 squad.
All those numbers are indicators of a team destined for a massive 2024 bounce back, not a team that should be selling.
Here are all the playoff teams San Diego had a better 2023 run differential than:
Sure, the Padres have some winter work to do with Blake Snell and Josh Hader both set to hit free agency. But, even if they take a step back in those rotation and bullpen spots, they've still got the talent to compete with some of baseball's top teams.
A full season of Tatis, some improvement from Manny Machado, and getting more than 24 starts from guys like Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish will go a long way in making up the gap. Any offseason acquisitions are just extra.
The Padres fell to 7-23 in 1-run games following Monday's loss to the Giants. The Padres are on pace for the 2nd-worst record in 1-run games since 1900.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 26, 2023
However, San Diego's overall run differential of +90 this season would be the 2nd-best in team history (+114 in 1998). pic.twitter.com/F7UGmROU5u
But What About The Future?
One argument for a Soto swap is planning for the future. Trades for Soto, Musgrove, Hader and others have put a suck on the Padres' farm system over the last few years. But, the cupboards aren't as bare as you'd think. Despite the massive moves, San Diego's farm still ranks seventh in baseball with five top-100 prospects, per Baseball America.
Sure, the Padres could try to retool around young players like Ha-Seong Kim, Fernando Tatis Jr., and those top prospects. But the rest of the San Diego squad is a win-now core. The Padres currently have five players over the age of 30 locked into long-term deals of at least $100 million (Bogaerts, Darvish, Machado, Suarez, Musgrove).
Going all in for 2024 — Soto's final year before free agency — is the best shot this San Diego squad will have to win a World Series. Trading that opportunity for a few prospects that won’t get to the big leagues in time to help the current core isn't worth it.
The Padres rank seventh in early 2024 World Series odds (+1400), showing they've got a real shot to win it all. If '24 doesn't work out, the Padres still have the farm to regroup, but they can't let next year go to waste.
If Padres Do Trade Soto, Look To the AL East
There are no updated Soto trade odds available as of now. But odds as of the 2023 trade deadline slated the Yankees (+240) and Red Sox (+500) as the most likely destinations for a Soto swap. Those two teams still make sense as top destinations, but I like the Orioles (+1200) even better.
The Orioles have plenty of upper-minors prospects that could help the Padres NOW — many of whom are blocked — and a need to take their squad to the next level.
If the Os are willing to part with a package that includes a few of Heston Kjerstad, Coby Mayo, and some young pitching, maybe the Padres could be willing to part with a year of Soto. It's a steep price, but it's the only situation I could see San Diego actually improving by moving one of the best players in baseball.