The hottest conversation topic among Rangers fans right now is Juan Soto. Can they trade for him, sign him to a record-breaking contract, and make him the team’s centerpiece for the next decade? Should they trade Jack Leiter for him? Or Kumar Rocker? Leiter and Rocker? Is the cost too much?
I’ve been a Washington Nationals fan since 2005, and I’m here to say: are you guys nuts? Juan Soto is amazing! Every half-decent team in baseball should do everything necessary to acquire him. There is no reasonable stopping point. Go all in.
The Nationals are seeking prospects in return. They want some of the prospects to be major-league ready but otherwise value whatever quality they can get. Here is the thing about prospects: they’re not certain. Pitchers can blow their arms out. Hitters can flail at breaking balls they never learn how to detect. I just pulled up a list of the Rangers’ top prospects in 2017, and I’ve only heard of one guy in the top 10. (No offense.)
Prospects are risks. Juan Soto is not. Soto is a guarantee. He can hit .300. He can hit 30 home runs. He can walk like Barry Bonds. He’s won the Home Run Derby and the World Series (against a team you Rangers fans have to watch a lot). He hit two doubles and three homers in that World Series, Game 3 of which came on his 21st birthday. This is not just an MVP candidate but a Hall of Fame candidate. Among all batters in history through their age-23 seasons, Soto is 12th in home runs, fifth in on-base percentage, tied for ninth in slugging percentage, and second in walk rate. He has more homers, triples, runs, and walks, and fewer strikeouts, than age-23 Miguel Cabrera, the only other young superstar of this caliber to be traded (for two top-10 prospects in baseball, among other things). Statistics nerds say that the historical player whose stats most resemble Soto’s, in all of baseball history, is Ted Williams. You know. That Ted Williams.
I’ve seen objections to Soto as a possible acquisition. Forgive my bluntness, but mostly they are dumb. He’s having a down year this season. OK. His on-base percentage is still .404, he’s still got 20 homers, and he still walks more than he strikes out. If he was on the Rangers, he would lead qualified Rangers hitters in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and walks, and he’d be second in doubles and home runs. A bad year from Juan Soto is like a normal performance from Nicolas Cage: it’s still not normal.
He only has two and a half years of control. That’s three playoff races and plenty of opportunity to offer him the $500 million contract extension he deserves. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system spits out the following estimate for Soto’s next two years: 36 homers a year, batting average over .300, an OBP of .465, and in total 15.6 WAR. So: a perennial MVP candidate. There is a decent chance he falls short of that. There is an equal chance he blows it away.
Also, the kid is still 23. I’ve heard Rangers fans say they would include Josh Jung in a Soto trade. Jung is older than Soto. So is Leody Taveras.
“But Alex Rodriguez.” That’s the argument of Dallas Morning News columnist Kevin Sherrington, who explains, “Alex Rodriguez was also in Soto’s league, and how much difference did he make on all those kids in Arlington?”
I’m sorry. Huh?
Sherrington continues: “The Rangers need more walks and fewer strikeouts, not another high-priced star.”
OK. Guess who leads the whole league in walks this year?
“They need guys who can score a runner from third without a hit,” says Sherrington. “Guys who can beat a shift or, failing that, beat out a bunt. Guys who take coaching. Guys who won’t mindlessly throw home and give up second base in the process.”
I assume that this is a reference to some kind of Rangers drama you guys are having, because it has no relevance to Juan Soto.
“What they absolutely, unequivocally must have right now is pitching.”
OK, this one is true. If I had to diagnose the Rangers from afar, Martín Pérez and Jon Gray need some help, and the bullpen needs a lot of help. I would probably also point out that the purpose of acquiring Juan Soto right now is to use him in three playoff runs. Since the Rangers are not in playoff position this year, other teams will value his services more highly.
In other words, Soto might be a better fit for another team (like, dare I say it, Seattle). But should you want him? Of course! And if the Rangers front office decides it wants to trade for him, what should they trade? Everything!
You saw him troll Alex Bregman in the World Series. You tuned in for the Home Run Derby. So let me tell you about the experience of watching Juan Soto every single night, just as a fan: it is ridiculously fun. It is a level of fun I associate with only two other ballplayers in my lifetime: Max Scherzer and Ken Griffey Jr. Scherzer is the odd man out in that trio because he is fun in a terrifying way. He’s like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, and he thinks the baseball is a hatchet and the hitters are all doors to chop through.
Soto is more like Griffey. He’s constantly having fun. He’s as exuberant, exciting, and emotional as other young stars like Jazz Chisholm Jr., Fernando Tatís Jr., and (sigh) the late José Fernandez.
But then there’s the other thing. The all-time greatness thing. As a fan, I’ll tell you what the stat line does not. There is no doubt, when Soto steps in the batter’s box, that he runs the stadium. This is not normal. The pitcher is in charge. The pitcher decides what to throw, and where. The pitcher does whatever he wants, and the batter has to react to it. Juan Soto is the exception to that. He steps in, and you know he is in charge. The pitcher is reacting to him. The center of the action has shifted. If the poor pitcher throws a ball, Soto will do his trademark dance, sweeping his legs around. This is often perceived by old-timers as a show of arrogance, but I think he’s hyping himself up. I think, in his mind, he’s got a pep rally going. And then if the poor pitcher throws a strike, well, that baseball is doomed.
Monday night, I watched Soto step in against the Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin (ERA: 2.02 at the time). He was magnetic. You couldn’t take your eyes away from the death stare, the shuffle, the way he wiggles the bat over his shoulder menacingly, like he’s getting ready to smash the ball to tiny bits. He took some pitches and did the dance. Then he hit a ground ball to first base. And I know it’s insane, I know it sounds dumb, but in my mind, I thought, “He must have done that on purpose. He’s setting the pitcher up.”
That’s not how baseball is supposed to work.
But in the fifth inning, still facing Gonsolin, Soto hit a pitch that Gonsolin located in just about the same place, to just about the same place in the field. Only this hit had a little more bite. It bounced over the first baseman and rolled until it became a two-run triple.
If you don’t want to watch that every night all summer long, I don’t know what to tell you. If you do, trade everything. We’re watching history. We’re watching 4K Resolution Ted Williams. We’re watching Interesting Mike Trout. We’re watching Likeable Barry Bonds.
No asking price is too high.