NEW YORK — The big baseball news Saturday didn’t come on the field.
It was an early afternoon report by MLB insider Ken Rosenthal that the Washington Nationals were open to trading star outfielder Juan Soto after he rejected a 15-year, $440 million contract extension.
Mookie Betts was 27 when the Red Sox sent him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Soto turns 24 in October and his statistical profile resembles those of Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson.
In other words, the Nationals won’t be settling for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong.
But the Red Sox probably created a blueprint for the next blockbuster when they traded Betts in 2020. They required the Dodgers to pick up $48 million of the $96 million they owed aging David Price to make the deal.
The Nationals owe righthander Stephen Strasburg $140 million from 2023-26 and lefthander Patrick Corbin $59 million from 2023-24. It’s a good bet that if they trade Soto, a big chunk of one of those onerous deals will be included.
Soto cannot become a free agent until after the 2024 season, so any team that trades him has to accept the idea he could leave after a few years — or that they’ll have to quickly come up with a long-term offer acceptable to Soto and agent Scott Boras.
The Dodgers, as always, have the players and payroll to make it happen. The Mets and win-now owner Steve Cohen are a possibility. The Yankees always find a way to land a player they really want.
This is way off the charts, but the Marlins could rejuvenate baseball in Miami with a deal for Soto. The Cubs need a star to rebuild around.
You can be sure 29 front offices were discussing the idea on their Slack channels on Saturday.
That includes the Red Sox. They have the young talent and financial resources to make a deal, but it would require ownership abandoning the build-from-within model they vowed to follow in 2019 after firing World Series winner Dave Dombrowski and replacing him with Chaim Bloom.
Soto, whose patience at the plate and powerful lefthanded swing has drawn comparisons to Ted Williams, is a player worth changing course for.
Under Bloom, the Sox have improved their minor league talent base considerably, but all of those players aren’t destined to play their home games at Fenway Park. It’s inevitable some will be traded.
The Sox could offer the Nationals three of their top 12 prospects — say shortstop Marcelo Mayer, center fielder Miguel Bleis, and lefthander Brandon Walter — and take on half of Strasburg’s deal.
Such a trade only makes sense if you sign Soto long term, which the Dodgers did with Betts less than six months after the trade. But Betts loved Los Angeles and wanted to stay. Boras is not likely to be as accommodating.
That’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of money for one player, but this one player everybody wants.
Soto is fun to think about. Imagine him hitting third in the lineup for the final two months of the season? The Sox have a window opening with Chris Sale coming back and their rotation getting healthy. Landing Soto would be instant adrenaline for grumpy Sox fans.
A better idea is signing Rafael Devers to a long-term deal, agreeing with Xander Bogaerts on an extension, and keeping the prospects. Devers is 25, has a .924 OPS over the last two seasons, and is a proven commodity in Boston. He’s not Soto, but he’s not that far away. Spend the money on him.
A team headlined by Devers and Bogaerts fortified by those prospects can win multiple championships over time. Bogaerts can cede shortstop to Mayer in a few years and move to a different spot.
Fantasy baseball is fun, but give me the guys who already have won here.