The sky’s the limit for the 2024 Chicago Cubs! After poaching new manager Craig Counsell from the rival Milwaukee Brewers, Cubs fans expect more big moves this offseason. First and foremost, the Cubs need to figure out if they will resign Cody Bellinger, the 2023 National League Comeback Player of the Year. Bellinger was the Cubs’ MVP last year, leading the team in home runs, RBI, and batting average. But at his likely cost of between $150-$250 million over 6-8 years, the Cubs might look elsewhere to replace his production. The big fish of course is Shohei Ohtani, the two-way superstar not seen in the game since, dare I say, Babe Ruth. Even after undergoing UCL surgery on his right throwing elbow in September that will keep him off the mound until 2025, Ohtani will still bat next year. After leading the American League with 44 home runs, Ohtani is expected to sign the largest free-agent contract in MLB history. The Cubs are rumored to have already met with Ohtani in Chicago; if he signs with them, it will quickly raise the bar from winning the NL Central and making the playoffs to appearing in next year’s World Series.
Hall of Fame Backup Plan
If the Cubs strike out on signing Ohtani and if Bellinger prices them out, it would leave a massive hole in their lineup. Thankfully, there’s a door #3 for the Cubs this offseason, and his name is Juan Soto. When Soto was a Washington National, I outlined what it might take to trade for the outfielder on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Now, Soto is only a year away from free agency. How much would acquiring one of baseball’s biggest bats cost in dollars and prospects? Let’s dive in!
Soto’s Hall of Fame Resume
Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, and Juan Soto. Those are the only players with 100 home runs, 300 RBI, 400 walks, and 500 hits before turning 23. Soto is the only player to achieve those numbers since 1950! Through his first 550+ games, Soto has more home runs, RBIs, runs, walks, a higher on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS than Ken Griffey Jr. did in his first four seasons. Last year, Soto hit a career-high 35 home runs, led baseball in walks, finished 8th in OPS, and 3rd in OBP behind MVPs Ronald Acuna and Ohtani. So, how much would it cost the Cubs to acquire Soto?
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A ‘Cubs Ransom’ for Soto
First, it would cost the Cubs millions to trade for Soto. In the final year of arbitration, Soto is expected to receive a contract north of $30M+ ahead of free agency. Luckily, the Cubs can afford his salary, especially if Cody Bellinger signs elsewhere. The more interesting component is who the Cubs would trade for Soto. Last year, I projected six Cubs to the Washington Nationals in a midseason trade, including top prospects Pete Crow-Armstrong and Jordan Wicks, who made their major league debuts this year. In addition to PCA and Wicks, I projected either Justin Steele or Keegan Thompson (what a difference a year makes), Nico Hoerner, Christopher Morel, and impending free agent Willson Contreras. Talk about a haul!
One-Year Rental Status Limits Soto’s Trade Value
Trading for Soto this offseason only guarantees that he’s on the Cubs for one year before he hits free agency. Assuming that he doesn’t sign an extension before hitting the market, Soto will command hundreds of millions of dollars, likely in the $250 million range, next offseason. Therefore, the trade haul heading to the Padres this year will be significantly less than before. Justin Steele and Nico Hoerner are now off the table in trade talks. Christopher Morel is still in play – he tied for the Cubs team lead in home runs with Bellinger at 26 (doing so in 23 fewer games, mind you). Add his positional uncertainty, and Morel is likely the major league talent the Cubs are offering the Padres. In addition to Morel, the Cubs would likely have to offer another top-10 prospect. The Padres need pitching and would likely demand that Cade Horton, Ben Brown, or the aforementioned Wicks be included in the deal. Throw in another major league pitcher, perhaps Hayden Wesneski or Javiar Assad, and a prospect like Owen Caissie, whom the Cubs acquired from the Padres in the Yu Darvish trade, and you might have yourself a deal.
4 Cubs for 1 future Hall of Famer
It’s a lot of give-up for the Cubs; an exciting power bat in Morel, their #1 pitching prospect in Horton, a young arm in Wesneski or Assad, and what some consider the top power bat in the minors in Caissie. However, the Cubs window to win is now. They must consider making this deal even if they resign Bellinger or win the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. The front office has done a phenomenal job rebuilding the minor leagues, and the time is now for them to use those assets to bring another World Series trophy back to Wrigley Field.