Juan Soto may want to test free agency in 2024 – how that affects Padres' asking price, his next destination

Juan Soto may want to test free agency in 2024 – how that affects Padres' asking price, his next destination

For the second year in a row, Juan Soto is on the block.

The San Diego Padres are aiming to shed some money while simultaneously filling in their rotation that could lose, well, just about everyone to free agency.

So, understandably, the Padres want a lot for the 25-year-old perennial MVP candidate – MLB-ready pitching, some top prospects and maybe some more.

But there’s likely a wrinkle to the Padres’ potential asking price: Reports have swirled that Soto is going to test free agency after the 2024 season. 

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Juan Soto of the San Diego Padres celebrates after hitting a home run against the Tigers at Comerica Park on July 21, 2023, in Detroit. (Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

Who can blame him? He’s going to be one of the most sought-out players in the history of free agency, maybe even more than current free agent Shohei Ohtani, who is rumored to sign a deal that could exceed not only $500 million, but $600 million.

Right now, Soto can only negotiate a long-term deal with the Padres. If, and very likely when, he gets traded (perhaps at this week’s Winter Meetings), he will then only be able to negotiate with his new team.

As a free agent, he’s able to negotiate with 30. 

So, with that in mind, some clubs are going to operate under the impression that they could be acquiring only a one-year rental, albeit an elite one.

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That’s why the Yankees have reportedly had difficulties including the names of top prospect Jasson Dominguez and 22-year-old Anthony Volpe, who just won a Gold Glove Award as a rookie, in trade talks. In fact, discussions between the Yanks and Padres reportedly stalled after San Diego asked for pitcher Michael King and up to six prospects.

Juan Soto celebrates RBI double

Juan Soto of the Padres celebrates a one-run RBI double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the National League Championship Series at PETCO Park on Oct. 19, 2022, in San Diego. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Of course, teams like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Cubs have deep pockets, so they have an advantage that they may not necessarily be trading for a rental.

With that in mind, though, that could mean small market clubs can fork over his estimated $33 million arbitration salary for just one season. For a team like the Tampa Bay Rays – which just won 99 games but are still in search of their first World Series title and always seem to know exactly who to trade away and who to trade for – that seems pretty enticing.

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So, for teams that know they will only be getting one season out of Soto, they could either accept the fact that they’ll be overpaying for his services, or hold strong to their offers and hope the Padres bite – the worst that can happen is they’re in the same spot they’re already in.

But with teams with fat pockets, knowing they will be in the Soto sweepstakes this time next year, should they even bother offering young talent when they don’t need to do that next year?

Juan Soto in Seattle with the Padres

Juan Soto of the San Diego Padres smiles during the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at T-Mobile Park on July 10, 2023, in Seattle. (Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

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Make no mistake, Soto’s name is going to be one of the most mentioned this week and throughout the rest of the offseason. Just about every insider and exec feels he will be moved.

But if he’s definitely a one-year rental, which seems to be the consensus, the Padres may need to lower their expectations on what they’re going to get back.

Soto had a down 2022, but showed his talent last year by hitting .275 with 35 homers, 109 RBI, and a .930 OPS. He led the majors in walks last season for the third time in his career, with 132. In his career, he owns a .946 OPS, he’s the active career leader in on-base percentage (.421), and he has four top-nine MVP finishes – he finished sixth this past season.

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