Why is Juan Soto such a burden?

Why is Juan Soto such a burden?

Juan Soto might be the best hitter of his generation. In the past 53 years, only six players have accumulated more fWAR than Soto has before hitting age 25. They are Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr, and Andruw Jones. All of them Hall of Famers except for Jones. And the other four are first-ballot. Even though Soto has another 10-15 years left in his career, he already walks with giants.

And yet, he’s been moved along twice. Treated like a burden twice. Only seen for what he can bring back twice, even though he won’t bring back anyone who’s nearly as good as he is. Teams can’t find another Juan Soto.

San Diego, it may not be understandable but it’s explainable. Their TV deal went away, greatly affecting their overall revenue. Their owner died and the next ones may not want to as passionately chase a first World Series championship for the Padres, though they should. Still, it could be a long while before the Padres have another Soto. They might still think they have another one in Fernando Tatis Jr. if they could keep his brain from dripping out of his ear every so often.

The Nationals won a World Series with Soto, saw him decline one contract offer, and decided it was too much of a headache to keep him around. The pressure of watching him careen toward free agency and the horror, horror of the idea that he might walk as a free agent was too much. Though maybe not so much as the horror of paying him what he’s worth.

Fans wait years, maybe decades, to watch a player like Soto play for their team every day. They spend the interim pointing at their rivals and saying to their buddies, “How come we never get guys like that?” And then one day it flips and all that waiting and torture seems worth it. Except when their front offices and owners decide it’s not worth the bother.

So far, the Nats have gotten a shortstop who can’t hit and a pitcher who can’t really find the plate. The Padres have gotten a couple pitchers who might be good, or even real good, but one already has shoulder problems. Why are any of these teams better off?

It would be a big warning sign for baseball if Rob Manfred wasn’t spending most of his time grinning and laughing while slowly stirring a bubbling ooze in a giant cauldron, that a good deal of recent World Series champions were deemed too much trouble and broken up within a couple seasons. The 2015 Royals, the 2016 Cubs, the 2018 Red Sox, the 2019 Nationals, all of them were unrecognizable within four or five years. Ownership didn’t think it was worth the hassle to keep all of them together. None of them are relevant now. All within a decade.

The Yankees may not keep Soto beyond this year. They may simply get outbid next winter. But at least they thought even one season of him was worth it, because Juan Sotos so rarely are available to be signed or traded for.

The fear of players reaching free agency is merely a creation, probably a creation of owners to try to manipulate fans to their side of these arguments. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with players getting to the end of their contracts and their teams simply ponying up to keep them around. The Nationals could have done so with Soto. The list of teams that could have done so with other players is too long by now. Having great players is not a burden to carry.

Does it guarantee the Yankees anything? Hard to say. At the moment it looks like either Alex Verdugo or Aaron Judge are going to have to play center every day, which neither is built to do. And another long-term Judge injury probably sinks their hopes just like it did last year. The infield is still offensively challenged, and there’s still far too much riding on the balsa wood that Carlos Rodon is made out of.

But having a Juan Soto certainly improves the chances. It’s worth more than the handful of lottery tickets they sent west to San Diego. They don’t see Soto as a bag of bricks to carry around. Strange how that’s such a rare view these days.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.