Could Nats slugger Juan Soto become a Dodger?

Of course, the Dodgers will be looking for a deal for Juan Soto with major league partner Washington.

Of course, the Dodgers will be looking for a deal for Juan Soto with major league partner Washington.
Photo: Getty Images

On Tuesday, Juan Soto will man the Dodger Stadium outfield as a member of the National League All-Star team.

The next time he enters that field, he may just be a member of the home team.

On Saturday morning, the 23-year-old superstar turned down a massive 15-year, $440 million contract extension to stay with the Washington Nationals for what would likely be the rest of his career. The deal would have made him the highest paid player in baseball history. But Soto had other plans in mind. Unlike superstar Mike Trout, who is playing out his $426.5 million 12-year deal with the Angels, Soto cares about winning.

In 2019, the Nationals made a surprise run to the World Series in Soto’s second season. They defeated the Brewers, Dodgers, Cardinals and Astros in one of the most shocking World Series runs in MLB history. Soto hit five homeruns that postseason, including three in the World Series – two of which were go-ahead explosions.

In 2020 the team disappointed. In 2021, the property finally blew it up.

Everyone became available, except for their young superstar.

One team that took advantage of the Nationals garage sale was the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, ready to go back-to-back as they battled the San Francisco Giants in the NL West (and in pursuit of the Nationals’ ace), moved all in. They traded their two best prospects — catcher Keibert Ruiz and starting pitcher Josiah Gray — along with two other prospects to the Nationals. In return, not only did they get the trade deadline price in Max Scherzer, but they also took All-Star shortstop Trea Turner.

The Dodgers showed (again) no fear of trading young talent out of their fraught farm system and (again) showed no fear of bartering for guys they would have to get the checkbooks for in the coming off-seasons—a year earlier, the Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts and within a few months signed him on a 12-year, $365 million extension. Scherzer eventually left the Dodgers for the Mets, but Turner still had one year of contract and will now be renewed in a few months.

In June, when the Nationals were clearly in the early stages of a rebuild, rumors circulated of a potential deal involving Soto. He was given two more years of arbitration to wait before becoming a free agent in the 2024-25 off-season.

However, Nats GM Mike Rizzo quickly debunked those rumors when he said, “We don’t trade Juan Soto.”

On Saturday, that story may have shifted drastically.

With the trade deadline in just a few weeks, Soto’s somewhat surprising rejection sent a clear message to the other 29 general managers and front offices around baseball.

Start getting your packages (and your checkbooks) ready, because the Nationals are open for business.

In May, the LA Times reported that an email was sent to MLB reporters with the subject line “Juan Soto Trade Odds.” The Nationals were the favorites on the list that had Soto on their roster after the trade deadline. The Dodgers came in second.

But would the Dodgers really unload their ranch for a man they’d have to pay well over $400 million for, when they’ve already locked Betts and Freddie Freeman in contracts that pay them more than $27 million a year each?

The short answer is yes. The long answer? Well, it is also yes.

As I said, the Dodgers are no stranger to winning all-in trade deadlines for superstars. They are also no strangers to deals with the Nationals and with Soto’s agent, Scott Boras. Not only are current Dodgers Julio Urias and Cody Bellinger customers of Boras, but so is the guy they got from the Nationals in Scherzer a year ago.

The Dodgers also have more than enough talent to make a deal, which is arguably one of the biggest wins in MLB history. Guys in the Majors like Gavin Lux or Dustin May could headline the pack, while top prospects could help Bobby Miller, Diego Cartaya or Miguel Vargas round it out. The Nationals would love to get a combination of those players to jump-start their rebuilding, while the Dodgers would hold onto a big three from Soto, Betts and Freeman until at least 2027.

And for a little background on Soto, he’s already a two-time All-Star, a two-time All-MLB First-Team member, the 2020 NL batting champion, and the 2021 NL MVP runner-up. He also has the second-best percentage on-base to age 23 in modern times (since 1900) at .427, behind only Ted Williams’ .481.

At the start of this season, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts guaranteed a World Series win. As of Saturday, the Dodgers have the best record in NL and the second best in all of baseball with 59-30. They have won 14 of their past 16 matches and are ahead by 9.5 matches in NL West. They look like the clear favorite to come out of NL, even with their fraught list of injured and the struggles in the first half from guys like Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner (although he’s been heating up lately).

The Dodgers not necessarily need to clear a farm for a man like Soto. But if they had the chance, why wouldn’t they?

The Dodgers have proven time and again that they won’t hesitate if they feel they can dramatically improve their roster and win themselves in the immediate and future World Series. So why should it be different this time?