For those of us who have lived through the M. Donald Grant and Jeff Wilpon years, watching Steve Cohen use his personal resources to make the Mets the best team possible is unbelievably exciting. When he made the move on Carlos Correa last month, Mets fans dreamed of great baseball for years on end.
When news began to leak out that the “medical” concerns that spooked the Giants were apparently real, there was a sinking suspicion that we were not going to see him at third base at Citi Field in April. It was not surprising that Scott Boras was able to wrangle $200M out of the Twins – on a substantially shorter deal. Cohen’s remarks at the time of the initial news that the Mets needed “one more thing” are truer now than ever. While many observers have stated that outside of Alonso, the Met’s offense lacks “pop” – that is probably an overstatement. The current lineup has 15-20 home run hitters up and down the batting order (except for McNeil and the catcher’s spot). But it cannot be understated: another big bat would make a huge difference for this team.
Relying on Eduardo Escobar to play as well has he did in the last 5-6 weeks of 2022 is not a viable option. He was simply awful at the plate for four months. Maybe Brett Baty / Mark Vientos can provide the kind of offense they were drafted to produce. But this is another maybe/if/hopefully option.
The trade deadline is probably the Mets next best hope of improving the offense. Trade options usually start with teams off to disappointing starts who are trying to unload potential free agents in exchange for young talent. These so-called “rentals” often do not fetch prize minor league talent – and with notable exceptions (thank you Mr. Cespedes), they rarely turn the tide for the team acquiring the star player.
The second set of trade options is a group of players who are all-star caliber and “controllable” for longer than a year. And that’s where Juan Soto comes into play. He will be a free agent in 2025. He still has two years of team control – on a San Diego Padres team that is both loaded with young talent and full of holes. It is easy to see either scenario playing out for the Padres – they could challenge the Dodgers for the top spot in the NL West or they could fall flat and be out of the playoffs by June.
Let’s say it’s the latter. The 2023 season starts and the Dodgers are running away with the Division. A few key injuries for the Padres puts them 12 games out of the Wild Card by July 20. The expiration date on Soto’s Padres’ career is fast approaching. Could the Mets at the trade deadline put together an attractive enough combination of prospects and money (in the form of paying off bad contracts) in exchange for Soto?
Would anyone argue that Soto isn’t among the top 10 players in the entire sport? What would he be worth for a one year and two month “rental”?
Would that package of prospects be worth for Soto for two months down the stretch and another full year? Some of the answer to that question lies in how well the Mets play in the coming year. If they still need “one more thing” – then Soto is just the ticket. He has a career .950 OPS. He has an astonishing ability to get on base (career OBP: .424) and he is still young enough – he won’t be 25 until after the regular season ends – so a decline in production isn’t on the horizon. And this is where Mr. Cohen’s willingness to invest in the team becomes extremely helpful. He could offer Soto $40M a year for 10 years. That would keep Soto in a Mets uniform until 2035.
In retrospect, missing out on signing a health risk in Correa may have been a blessing. Soto is better than Correa. Soto has better power numbers than Correa and a better OBP. It is true that Correa plays to a gold glove at a premium defensive position – shortstop – but the Mets weren’t going to play him there. Correa was slotted in at 3rd base next to his friend Francisco Lindor. An outfield of Soto and Brandon Nimmo (a Met for life) with Lindor slated to be at shortstop for the next 10 years is an awfully good core.