The Cardinals avoided a massive mistake not trading for Juan Soto in 2022

The Cardinals were close to trading for Juan Soto two seasons ago and had they pulled it off, the franchise may be in a full-scale rebuild this offseason.
St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres
St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off a 71-91 season, the most disappointing year in decades for the storied franchise. Can you believe that things could have been even worse for the club? Well, let me take you back to the 2022 Trade Deadline.

In July of that year, the Cardinals were faced with a franchise-altering decision, should they trade for future Hall of Famer Juan Soto? On the surface, that seems like an obvious decision - of course, you always grab the generational talent. I, along with many others, were clamoring for the Cardinals to pull off the deal, and based on both local and national reports, the Cardinals were a real player in the sweepstakes alongside the Padres and Dodgers.

When the Soto deal went down and the aftermath of what negotiations looked like was reported, it became pretty clear in the moment that the asking price was too high for Soto, and with even more hindsight, it could have sunk the franchise back into a full-scale rebuild if the deal had gone through.

That summer, Soto rejected a $440 million contract from the Nationals, which is what led to the auction at the deadline to occur. With two and half years of control left on the superstar slugger, the Nationals were looking for a haul, and the Padres met their asking price. Here is the deal that eventually went down between the Padres and Nationals.

Padres received:
- OF Juan Soto
- 1B Josh Bell

Nationals received:
- SS C.J. Abrams (who entered the year as the #9 prospect in baseball)
- LHP Mackenzie Gore (who entered the year as a top-50 prospect in baseball)
- OF Robert Hassell (No. 21 overall prospect in baseball)
- OF James Wood (No. 89 overall prospect in baseball)
- RHP Jarlin Susana (San Diego's No. 14 prospect)
- 1B Luke Voit

For two and a half years of Soto and a rental Josh Bell, the Nationals got a top-10 prospect in baseball, two top-50 prospects in all of baseball, the 89th ranked prospect in baseball in James Wood who many were ranking much higher than that as prospect lists were soon to be updated, a pitching prospect, and an average first base or designated hitter option in Luke Voit.

We will likely never know what the Nationals fully wanted from the Cardinals that could match or beat the Padres deal, but if we want to try and make a comparable package, this is likely what it would have cost the Cardinals:

- OF/3B Jordan Walker (No. 30 prospect in baseball at that time)
- 2B/3B Nolan Gorman (Just graduated from being a top-25 prospect in baseball)
- LHP Matthew Liberatore (No. 43 prospect in baseball at that time)
- SS Masyn Winn (not a top 100 prospect yet, Cardinals No. 5 prospect)
- RHP Tink Hence (not a top 100 prospect yet, Cardinals No. 11 prospect)
- OF Dylan Carlson

Again, it's hard to say exactly what the price would have been since we do not know how the Padres felt about the Cardinals' prospects, but something very similar to this feels like a bid that could have competed with or bested what the Padres offered. For the 2022 season, the Cardinals would have had a lineup featuring Soto, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Albert Pujols, Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar, Yadier Molina, and Tommy Edman to try and make a run in the playoffs, and maybe they would have done more damage if that were the case.

But assuming the Cardinals' pitching woes still happened in 2023, the Cardinals would be sitting at the end of the season with the worst season in franchise history, one year left of Soto, and without the services of Walker, Gorman, Winn, Hence, Liberatore, and Carlson. Uh, yeah, not great.

The Cardinals could have flipped Soto for assets at the deadline or to the Yankees like the Padres did this offseason, but no return they could have gotten would have made up for all the talent they lost in that deal. Walker, Gorman, and Winn are already contributors to the Major League club and look to be a major part of the core moving forward. Tink Hence is the club's best pitching prospect and represents their best odds of developing a top starter at the moment. Dylan Carlson and Matthew Liberatore, although they have not reached their potential so far in their career, are capable big leaguers who still have a lot of time left in their careers.

If the Cardinals had traded for Soto at the 2022 Trade Deadline, there's a decent chance that he, Paul Goldschmidt, and Nolan Arenado were all traded at the 2023 Trade Deadline or this offseason. The Cardinals would have entered this offseason with a $30 million arbitration tag on Soto, needing three starting pitchers, and a young core that is now limited to just Nootbaar and Donovan on the active roster.

Had the asking price been lower, or the Padres not been as aggressive in going for Soto, the deal may have been something the Cardinals should have considered, but based on how things have played out over the last few years for St. Louis, it looks like they dodged a massive bullet, no matter how flashy it looked at the time.