Juan Soto‘s potential availability has dominated the headlines over the last week, rightly so, but the market may be limited because of what it will take in terms of both young players/prospects and a massive financial commitment. There aren’t too many teams willing and able to make such a blockbuster happen, which is why we may start seeing some would-be suitors going in a much cheaper direction.
I wrote about why I don’t think the Cubs will/should pursue Soto, so check that out if you’ve got a few minutes. If you don’t or you just want the tl;dr, it’s not really about what they’d have to trade away to get the 23-year-old superstar, but about what else they’d still have to add around him. I’m just not sold on the idea that ownership would suddenly reverse course on spending and do what it would take to ensure the Cubs aren’t just a different version of the Nationals or Angels.
The Padres are one such team and AJ Preller is so notorious for making splashy moves it seems as though he’s addicted to the endorphin rush from wheeling and dealing. With massive contracts on the books for Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. already, the club may not have the wherewithal to commit half a billion dollars to Soto. However, they have a fair bit of prospect depth and a desire to deepen their roster ahead of the postseason.
That combination of factors could lead to them orchestrating a blockbuster of a different sort.
“San Diego still wields a significant cache of young talent but perhaps not the financial flexibility to field a championship roster around Soto,” Dennis Lin wrote for The Athletic. “So, the Padres have every reason to continue their pursuits of other trade candidates. At least one team could help them address multiple needs: According to sources, the Padres have discussed the idea of adding both of the Cubs’ All-Stars — catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Ian Happ — to their lineup.”
The Cubs have already boosted their farm system with help from the Padres, adding a quartet of young players in exchange for Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini prior to last season. There had been brief rumblings that Contreras might have been the catcher involved in the deal, though that wouldn’t have provided the Cubs with enough additional value. Now, though, the Cubs have reached something of an inflection point with Contreras.
Happ is a different story because he has another year under his rookie contract and is incredibly valuable because he’s easily outproducing his salary. At the same time, the Cubs have a cache of outfield prospects and might not be planning to flip the competitive switch until after next season. That would enable them to sell high on Happ rather than going through another year of answering questions about why they didn’t extend one of their star players.
The top end of San Diego’s system isn’t exactly elite, with only outfielder Robert Hassell III (23) and catcher Luis Campusano (54) in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects, but the depth is solid. Hassell is only 20 years old and he’s raking at High-A with a .313 average, .873 OPS, and 141 wRC+ in 304 plate appearances He walks a lot, doesn’t strike out much, and has a little pop, all things that check off boxes for the Cubs (or any team).
He’s also projected to arrive in the majors by next year, ahead of most of the Cubs’ current crop of outfielders. Acquiring him would put the Cubs in a position to package several prospects of their own in a deal or three this offseason to address bigger organizational needs, or would simply mean having an even better chance that several of these young players pan out.
Even if this doesn’t come to pass, which it very likely won’t, there is a sense the Cubs could essentially use the Soto talk as cover for their own moves. They can position themselves as offering a (much) lower-cost alternative to those teams that might not be pursuing Soto or who, like the Padres, can’t commit the requisite financial resources at this point.
With just 10 days to go before the deadline, we’re going to be hearing a lot more rumors and reports about the Cubs.