Salk: Why best thing for Mariners is to trade for Juan Soto

Oct 18, 2023, 6:26 PM

Seattle Mariners Juan Soto...

Juan Soto of the San Diego Padres hits against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park in 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Seattle Mariners fans are hungry. They spent the last offseason waiting for an entree that never came and then watched as their team brought them an inconsistent meal followed by no dessert.

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They are understandably frustrated and looking to make sure that this ordering experience goes a lot better than last year. Hopefully, the Mariners organization feels the same late-night craving.

So while the Phillies and Rangers continue their heated march to an October showdown, it’s time to start planning for that next meal. And in baseball, sometimes the meal prep can be the most fun, and the most rewarding.

There is no simple solution in this sport. Winning the press conference doesn’t guarantee you much once the season starts (ask the Mets and Padres). But talent certainly wins and the long ball plays, especially in the postseason (ask the Phillies and Rangers). Spending money (or other assets) doesn’t automatically get the best meal on your plate, but when you spend on the right items, it can carry your team to another level. And that’s the level this team needs to reach.

This will not be a simple offseason full of the types of impact bats that change teams. At least not in the free agent market. There is one giant name (more on him in a moment), a few other very good players, then a middle ground that is all over the map. So if the Mariners want to improve, they need to select carefully from these ingredients, and then take a good long look at the trade possibilities.

The best thing Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners could do this winter is to trade for Juan Soto.

As a player, he is everything the M’s look for.

Want to control the zone? Soto led the league in walks and is in the top quarter of the league in limiting strikeouts.

Think you need to hit the ball hard to get through the inclement weather and ballpark dimensions at T-Mobile Park? Soto is among the best in the league at hitting with a high exit velocity.

Looking for a young superstar to pair with Julio Rodríguez? These guys had fun with each other at the Home Run Derby, played together on the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic, and seem like a natural fit.

Other than not being known for his outfield defense, Juan Soto is essentially a perfect fit.

In his ill-fated end-of-season press conference, Dipoto was asked how the team can improve. His answer was very direct.

“How can we produce more runs? We can make more contact. It’s just as simple as that,” he said.

Soto makes tons of contact, doesn’t chase outside the zone, and takes his walks to boot. His Baseball Savant page has so much red, it looks like trying to get to the freeway from Mercer at about 4:30 p.m.

And… he’s available! Not only is he available, but the team doing the trading is one in which you are more than familiar: the San Diego Padres. The same Padres who helped you acquire Matt Brash, Ty France and Andrés Muñoz, among others. No one expects them to just hand you the player, but at least there is a solid relationship there that could lead to the consummation of a deal.

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Now, there is one big (gigantic) downside here. No matter what you give up for Soto, he is only guaranteed for one season. He is entering his final arbitration year and will almost certainly become a free agent after 2024. With his agent Scott Boras likely salivating at the chance to start a bidding war for a 25-year-old superstar, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for him to sign a few months after he arrives like Luis Castillo did.

While there is risk associated with the length of Soto’s contract, hopefully it has the positive effect of lowering the price. Former MLB executive Jim Bowden, now with The Athletic, put the Mariners on a list of five suggested partners for the Padres. He had them hypothetically offering Bryce Miller plus either Harry Ford or Gabriel Gonzalez (two top-five prospects) in a deal. While I might pull the trigger on that deal, I honestly don’t think it would cost that much. Could Jarred Kelenic and one of those prospects be enough? It’s not impossible, though it would depend on what San Diego thinks of his upside.

Now, let’s not forget that Soto isn’t the biggest name available. There is that little matter of the modern (better) Babe Ruth who has made himself available and is a perfect fit for all 30 teams in the league. Shohei Ohtani might just have some interest in Seattle, where he has spent some offseason time and seemed to be touched by the crowd’s chanting at the All-Star Game. Ohtani is the prize of this offseason and his destination likely clouds the market for Soto.

I would love for Seattle to be Ohtani’s home for the next few years, but I’d bet against it. Why would a player opting out of the mess in Anaheim and frustrated by the team’s inability to put a contending product around him decide to come to a place that has most recently been in the news for its frustrated players speaking up about the need to improve the product? Do you think the hubbub surrounding the 54% winning percentage makes him excited to come here, regardless of what that number represents or what was said to clarify it? This just may be a case where perception is more important than reality, and it makes me hard-pressed to believe he will be wearing the teal next year.

There are maybe a dozen teams that would hope to land Ohtani, and I’d be willing to bet at least a few of them will turn their attention to Soto when that pursuit fails. So beat them to the punch. If I’m in the Mariners front office, I’m trying to get a deal done posthaste. I want to strike first, for a few reasons.

One, I want to get it done before Ohtani signs. This would be a challenge because the Padres would understandably want to wait to create a more robust market, but if an extra prospect gets it done quickly, I’d pay that price. Because two, it changes the narrative.

If you’ve ever heard me talk about this subject, you’ve probably heard me quote Terry Francona (and others) from whom I first heard the phrase, “manage like a fan and you will end up one.” The same is true for general managers and anyone else in a decision-making capacity. You can’t make moves because the fanbase is angry, hungry or even desperate. You have to stay true to your philosophy and plan.

But what about when the leadership of your clubhouse is aligned with the fans? Well, that changes things for me. And after Cal Raleigh and J.P. Crawford spoke many of the same words that fans have uttered, everything is different.

The Mariners need to change their trajectory, and do it quickly. Turn these frustrated players from a hindrance into an asset. Rewrite the story to make Seattle a destination for players and not a last resort. Because while the free agent market isn’t loaded with bats, there are a few, and it would sure be nice to see them interested in playing here rather than avoiding it. And who knows? Maybe it would be a sign to Ohtani that you are serious about winning right now. And maybe it would convince Soto to consider staying when the season ends.

To call this a crucial offseason for Dipoto would be an understatement. ESPN’s Jeff Passan told us it might be time for him to do something uncomfortable. Trading assets for a one-year rental would certainly qualify. But if you think of it as a catalyst for improving not only your roster but your ability to add to that roster, I think the time is right to strike.

Target Juan Soto. Change the narrative and the direction of the franchise. Feed the beast, satisfy everyone’s hunger early, and let’s start planning for dessert.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Mariners winners, losers from Bump & Stacy’s second annual Bumpies
Mariners Week That Was on Seattle Sports: Drayer’s insider look
Seattle Mariners Offseason Primer: Who could be on their radar?
Morosi: How Mariners must address bullpen, lineup this offseason
Lessons Mariners need to learn with Astros, Rangers both in ALCS

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Salk: Why best thing for Mariners is to trade for Juan Soto