The St. Louis Cardinals might have the prospects needed to acquire Juan Soto, but is it worth shaking up the team’s foundation?
The Washington Nationals are listening to offers for superstar outfielder Juan Soto, who rejected the Nationals’ offer of a 15-year, $440 million salary, which would have made him the highest-paid player in baseball history. While many teams are likely salivating over the idea of trading for the 23-year-old phenom, the Cardinals are one of the few teams that could have enough impact on the farm to make a deal.
I am quite cautious when it comes to wanting the Cardinals to make certain moves, and I could see the term “prospect hugger” being lobbed my way. Indeed, I wrote an article a couple weeks ago about how the Cardinals should stay put at the trade deadline. But even the slightest inkling of the Cardinals being interested in Soto could have me seriously reconsidering my position.
While Soto is not having his usual year at the plate at this point in the season, he still possesses what is probably the best batting eye in the sport, and given his youth, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before he gets going again.
The Nationals will undoubtedly want players who can provide the next wave of success for their team, and they’re going to want the cream of the crop. Nobody can be off-limits; this isn’t MLB The Show 21, where a team could infamously acquire Soto for basically a bag of peanuts.
So whom could the Cardinals realistically offer in a package for Soto? I think all discussions would begin with budding superstar Jordan Walker, who is clobbering the ball in Double-A at age 20. Masyn Winn, who just recorded a Statcast record-setting 100.5 mph throw from shortstop in the Futures Game, is someone else the Nationals could be coming after. Alec Burleson could be an outfielder the Nationals pursue to attempt to begin filling the Soto vacancy.
On the mound, the Cardinals are thinner, but they still have a decent number of good young arms. Gordon Graceffo has dazzled this year, and Zack Thompson has shown he can get major leaguers out. The Nationals might also be able to unlock the talent of the gifted but inconsistent Matthew Liberatore. Regardless of what the Nationals need on the farm, the Cardinals can provide it.
Do the Cardinals need Soto, though? The seemingly obvious answer is yes, yes they do. A lineup with Arenado, Goldschmidt and Soto would be devastating. But here’s where my cautious side comes into play again: Soto is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season, so the Cardinals would need to woo him into re-signing with the club and be willing to pay a gargantuan sum of money for his services.
Even if the Cardinals re-signed Soto, they would need to be very sure that they could win a World Series before 2025, because Arenado and Goldschmidt might not have too many great years left. Flags fly forever, but the Cardinals’ enviable culture of sustained winning would be at risk with Soto as their only weapon and a barren farm system. In essence, the Cardinals would likely be exactly where the Nationals are now: champions to basement dwellers in three years.
Whether the Cardinals can become champions in that window would depend on the pitching. Adam Wainwright is likely to retire after either this year or next year, and Jack Flaherty could be gone after 2023 as well. The Cardinals might have to trade from the offense to get some pitching help outside the organization if some of the younger pitchers aren’t ready within this time frame.
The Cardinals would need to hit on some great talent in future drafts to minimize the pain and length of the rebuild, and to their credit, the Cardinals have the highest drafted WAR based on their draft position from 2010 to 2019.
Seeing Soto in a Cardinals uniform would be incredible, and while he is still very young and could likely carry a team for nearly a decade, the Cardinals’ run of success hasn’t come by trading away the farm. A Soto trade seems to run counter to the front office’s general mindset, and I think it might run against mine, too. Why change what’s worked for a team since the mid 1990s? A prospect hugger I shall remain. C’est la vie.