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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 6, 2022 7:46 pm PDT
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Don’t do it.

No matter how tempting it is, just say no.

If you’re the Mets or the Yankees, you can’t trade for Juan Soto.

The price to acquire the ultra-talented, young outfielder [he’s only 23] is simply going to be too high, even for the likes of Mets owner Steve Cohen or the Steinbrenner family, which owns the Yankees. The cost in terms of dollars and talent should make such a move prohibitive for either club.

The need to win the back page or get the instant gratification of adding a stud like Soto is certainly alluring, particularly in a media market like New York. Sure, the Mets can use another bat but they are also in need of some bullpen help.

Throw in the constant doubts about Jacob deGrom and it adds up to plenty of issues surrounding the Mets, but Soto is not the answer for the team in Queens. And his presence in the Bronx, as much as it has some Yankee fans salivating, would ultimately cause more problems than it would solve.

Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals gestures in the dugout before the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 22, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Christy/Getty Images)

Both clubs were in first place in their respective divisions when the baseball world learned that Soto had reportedly turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension from the Washington Nationals, who seem a lot more like the old Senators these days despite being only three years removed from winning a World Series. The knee-jerk reaction in New York, from much of the media and many of the fans was what you would expect – we are New York, we are the big market, we are what everyone wants to be. So, let’s kick sand in the face of those 90-pound weaklings in Pittsburgh and Kansas City and Cincinnati and Oakland and make this happen.

This time, however, New York should let someone else be the bully. Let the Dodgers or the Angels or the Rangers, who seem to enjoy spending money like drunken sailors, get the immediate glory before suffering the long-term consequences of emptying a farm system and then crippling a budget by signing Soto to the ridiculous contract he and Scott Boras, his agent, think he deserves.

Consider what the Mets would have to give up in such a deal. Their farm system is top heavy and until last week’s draft, lacked any sort of depth. So, trade Francisco Alvarez, who looks like a bona fide star, one that would provide relief from having to watch the likes of James McCann, Tomas Nido and Patrick Mazeika fumble their way through another season at the plate. Trade Brett Baty, a third baseman with a solid glove and some nice power who could take over for Eduardo Escobar at some point in the near future. And that’s just for starters.

The Yanks would likely have to bid adieu to Anthony Volpe,Oswald Peraza and a whole host of others who could be inexpensive staples for what is already a top-heavy roster in terms of salary. Trading for Soto would also likely mean that Aaron Judge becomes expendable because the Yanks aren’t going to have a roster that includes Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole, Judge and Soto, who would combine to have contracts worth north of $1 billion.

“The aspect of competitive balance comes into play because while the rich get richer, the poorer clubs are also affected.”

We spoke with one Major League executive who viewed the prospect of a team trading for and then having to sign Soto as, ultimately, a no-win situation for everyone involved except the player and his agent.

“They’re referred to as baseball teams and there is a lot to be said for that word, team” the aforementioned exec said. “Granted, you have to have good players, but one man is not going to make the club. I think you sacrifice a lot when you travel in the salary ranges that we see today. A case in point are the San Diego Padres and their investment in [Fernando] Tatis. They are playing better this year and with that investment in Tatis, with what has transpired, I don’t think it has done them that much good. Go back over history and look at one man and these astronomical expenditures and you’ll see they don’t necessarily make a good club. With these significant contractual investments, especially for 13 to 15 years, if you get maybe five or seven years of the expected production, you’re probably doing alright but it constitutes a lot of wasted money.

“There are clubs that operate on a business-like basis but there are others that will chase their tail right over a cliff in the belief that one player is going to make a difference for them. If you look at better balanced clubs like the Atlanta Braves, you don’t know off hand who the highest paid player is but they seem to make it work with good, young players. And granted, the Dodgers have a substantial payroll but aside from an unfortunate investment in Trevor Bauer, you’d be hard-pressed to tell who their $350-million player is. They just have a lot of good talent they have developed. Unfortunately, there are going to be some people who have to learn the hard way.”

Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals gestures skyward after a single in the seventh inning during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 22, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Mike Christy/Getty Images)

The Mets, at some point, will have to pay Pete Alonso. deGrom, despite not having pitched in a big-league game in more than a year, has stated he intends to opt out of his contract after this season. If the Mets intend to re-resign him, there’s another $35-$45 million in annual salary. Oh, and they still have Francisco Lindor and his bloated contract.

So, what happens if they do ultimately trade for and sign Soto? Cohen’s pockets are deep but it’s highly unlikely he’ll push the payroll into the $400 million range. And, if he does, where is that money coming from? How about taking that money and spending it on four or five very competent players who will make the team more complete?

“I realize there is great clamor for people to sign these mega contracts,” the MLB executive said. “You make a big splash in the media. By the way, then tell the fans that the ticket that cost you $50 this year will be $150 next year. That’s an answer that nobody wants to verbalize but we have to pay the contract and you guys [the fans] wanted us to sign this guy so badly. We always calculate, if we are signing a person for, say, $20 million a year, hopefully he makes us a better club because now we have to look at how many more people we have to draw at the current ticket rate to make back that $20 million.”

There are other factors involved in this equation that pertain not only to teams like the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers and Padres. The teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Oakland are impacted because they know they will never be able to sign such a player. The aspect of competitive balance comes into play because while the rich get richer, the poorer clubs are also affected.

Right fielder Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals swings during the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 23, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

“I think it’s a factor that ultimately, given enough time, will destroy the game,” one American League talent evaluator said. “Competitive balance is an oft-used term but players are opposed to a salary cap. That said, every club can have a salary cap. It’s called a budget and there is nothing illegal about a budget being self-imposed. If you go by a budget and keep the fans in mind, that’s all well and good. But to tell someone, look at us, we just signed Juan Soto for $550 million and oh by the way, your tickets are going up 40 percent next year – I don’t see where that’s in the best interest of baseball.

“Also, when I read the media report about Soto, I couldn’t help but wonder who the agent is. Here is a guy who has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from baseball and is still not satisfied. He’s operating under the guise of doing right by the player. What can you do with $440 million, though, that you can’t do with $300 million or $200 million? I think this is an obscenity that people have declined to observe. So quit running for the cover of having to do right by the player. That’s baloney. It’s just a cover for someone being greedy.”

It all makes for a very complicated situation that will impact more people than just those employed by the Mets and the Yankees should either team decide to make a move for Soto. So before either team gets serious in talks and decides to sign off on any deal, think and just say no.

Help your team, help the fans and help the game because if this situation becomes more of a norm than an exception the only ones who won’t suffer are the players like Soto, who seems, at least on some level, more interested in his ego and his wallet than actually helping the team that developed him in the first place.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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