Padres reportedly land Soto after Cardinals wouldn’t include Carlson in trade talks

Washington Nationals' Juan Soto smiles in the dugout after a solo home run during a baseball...
Washington Nationals' Juan Soto smiles in the dugout after a solo home run during a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)(Alex Brandon | AP)
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 11:56 AM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - St. Louis Cardinals fans have been teeming with anticipation in recent weeks over their favorite team’s pursuit of superstar outfielder Juan Soto.

Tuesday morning arrived the stark reality that the 23-year-old wunderkind isn’t coming.

The baseball world was turned on its head with multiple reports surfacing that the San Diego Padres had struck a deal with the Washington Nationals to acquire Soto and power-hitting first baseman Josh Bell for a package of touted young players. Initial reports suggested first baseman Eric Hosmer was also part of the package heading to Washington, but he has a no-trade clause that may be preventing that portion of the deal from being finalized.

The deal between the Nationals and the Padres comes after the Cardinals were viewed as one of the three finalists to land Soto in a blockbuster deal. The Dodgers were also involved in making their pitches to the Nationals for Soto, who does not become eligible to enter free agency until after the 2024 season.

With significant names like MacKenzie Gore (the one-time top pitching prospect in all of baseball), C.J. Abrams (a former top 10 prospect in MLB), and current top 100 prospects Robert Hassell and James Wood included in the final offer from the Padres, it’s clear the Cardinals would have been required to part with premium pieces in order to sway the Nationals toward a deal with them instead. St. Louis was evidently willing to do so, but only to an extent.

Multiple reports from Tuesday morning suggested that the Cardinals were unwilling to include 23-year-old outfielder Dylan Carlson in trade offers that also contained top prospects.

St. Louis boasts MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 prospect in all of minor-league baseball in 20-year-old third baseman Jordan Walker. Masyn Winn is another top 100 piece from that 2020 MLB Draft class who has risen rapidly in various prospect rankings. Walker and Winn are both currently thriving with Double-A Springfield, but would have likely been included by St. Louis in negotiations for a hypothetical successful acquisition of Soto.

The Cardinals also possessed the ability to include in talks several quality Major League contributors with ample team control attached. Rookies Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez and Andre Pallante would have likely garnered various levels of attention from Washington. The Cardinals lacked the ability to offer high-end pitching names to equal San Diego’s inclusion of Gore, which meant it would likely be necessary to overwhelm the Padres with talented position players.

In the end, it appears the Cardinals considered moving Carlson⁠—who remains under team control as an anchor for the team’s outfield through 2026⁠—a bridge too far, even in a unique opportunity for a player like Soto.

Soto has hit 21 home runs and leads the league in bases on balls this season. His .894 OPS is the lowest of any of his four MLB seasons, but that mark would still have registered as second to only Paul Goldschmidt in the current Cardinals’ lineup. Carlson has performed at an above-average offensive rate in his young career, posting a lifetime .744 OPS (107 OPS+) in 1068 plate appearances with St. Louis.

This season, he has also provided sterling defense in center field during Harrison Bader’s absence due to plantar fasciitis. Though Soto, with his lifetime .966 OPS, is an indisputably better hitter than Carlson through this point in their respective careers, other issues existed for the Cardinals in pulling the trigger on a deal for Soto.

The Cardinals wouldn’t have had an obvious answer for replacing Carlson’s defensive role in center, as Soto is a much more limited defender who is confined to right field. With Bader’s timeline for a return unknown, the Cardinals would have needed to get creative to fill that void for the advancement of the 2022 club following a Carlson for Soto swap.

Exhausting the team’s depth of young talent for a guarantee of only three Octobers before Soto’s potential departure in free agency was also tricky proposition for the Cardinals front office. Soto recently turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract extension offer from the Nationals⁠—the Cardinals don’t fit the billing of a team likely to exceed that offer when it comes time to secure Soto long-term following the 2024 season.

Still, coming so close to the biggest trade deadline coup in the history of the organization only to fall short in the final hours of negotiations has to be viewed as a bitter disappointment for the Cardinals. John Mozeliak and his staff must now turn their attention to shoring up the roster in others ways prior to the trade deadline at 5 p.m. CT on Tuesday evening.

The Cardinals acquired starting pitcher Jose Quintana from the Pirates on Monday night, which should help a pitching rotation that has been battered by injury this season. But in a year that carried so much expectation back in the spring, the Cardinals currently sit outside the playoff field. St. Louis stands several games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central standings and a game back of Philadelphia for the National League’s final wild-card spot.

After missing out on Soto, the front office throwing up its hands and uttering ‘we tried’ shouldn’t be an acceptable response for a fan base desperate for more this October. With only hours to go before the deadline, we’ll see how the Cardinals respond to Tuesday morning’s setback.