Why Juan Soto trade talks were so disappointing for Giants, Farhan Zaidi – NBC Sports

Why Juan Soto trade talks were so disappointing for Giants, Farhan Zaidi - NBC Sports

SAN DIEGO — Juan Soto came along as the perfect player at the perfect time for the Giants. Tonight, they will face him.

Soto became a San Diego Padre last Tuesday in one of the biggest businesses in Major League Baseball history, and the Giants may now have to deal with him for the next two and a half years, and maybe longer if he falls in love with the city — which he wouldn’t — and the Padres hand him a check for 500 millions of dollars.

That’s a problem for the Giants, a significant one, but they may have an even bigger one going forward as they try to figure out how to compete with the Padres and Dodgers, who match Soto-Tatis Jr.-Machado with Betts-Turner-Freeman. The problem for the Giants now is that they weren’t even in a position to make a realistic run at Soto, a modern-day Ted Williams who could have been the second coming of Barry Bonds’ franchise-changing 1993 signing.

Six months ago, if you had told Giants officials that Soto would become available in mid-July, they might have lined up as the favorites. The industry probably would have too.

The Giants have the financial ability to be in any player of Soto’s caliber, though they haven’t flexed it the last two offseasons. They offered Bryce Harper, another former National, $310 million three years ago, and in the years since they’ve seen one big payday after another come off their books as the massive Mission Rock development grew in a parking lot across the bay.

Before the season, the Giants had a rapidly improving farm system that could cover the acquisition cost of someone like Soto. But several top prospects stalled, got injured or took a step back, and when Soto became available, they had no real way of matching what AJ Preller and the priests finally gave up.

In left-hander MacKenzie Gore, shortstop CJ Abrams, outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, and right-hander Jarlin Susana, the Padres gave up four of their top seven prospects, per Baseball America. Gore has graduated from prospect lists, but Abrams (No. 11), Hassell (25) and Wood (39) are all high on Baseball America’s current top 100.

Gore, currently on the IL with elbow soreness, is a 23-year-old lefty who many considered the game’s best pitching prospect a few years ago, and he had a promising rookie year.

Comparing unproven players in their early twenties isn’t an apples-to-apples game, but the Giants could have matched the Gore-Abrams duo with Marco Luciano (No. 18) and Kyle Harrison (No. 19), their two best prospects. Both had good years, but the development wasn’t there for others who might have filled a proposed Soto trade.

The player right behind those two coming into the season was Joey Bart, who had a rough rookie season at the plate. Then there was Ludovic Matos, who rose quickly after 2021 but was hitting just .177 in High-A at the time of the trade. He was followed by 2021 first-rounder Will Bednar, who did not dominate Low-A as hoped and is currently on the IL.

The preseason top five was rounded out by Heliot Ramos, who had a .644 OPS in Triple-A on deadline day. Jairo Pomares had a .696 OPS in High-A. Former first-rounders Hunter Bishop (.742) and Patrick Bailey (.686) fell far down even the Giants’ top 30 prospect lists.

During an appearance on Giants Talk last week, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaid said he had many conversations with Nationals executive Mike Rizzo, but the Nationals preferred the Padres’ package. The Dodgers, who have seven prospects in Baseball America’s latest top 100, reportedly finished second.

“We all see these prospect rankings and a lot of them are done in the offseason. Some prospect rankings update during the season, but current performance matters a lot in how the industry views these players,” Zaidi said. “Health or underperformance — which is the reality, we’ve seen with some of our players — can really affect their short-term value even if you’re still very optimistic about their long-term prospects.

“Even from a PR standpoint, I think when you’re talking about trading a star player, a franchise player, you don’t want to say the second or third best player you got is hitting .175 in ball. . That represents a little bit of a challenge in situations like we were in at this trade deadline, but it doesn’t affect our view of our system long term. We think our kids will get healthier.”

RELATED: Webb has a great response to Soto’s warning to NL pitchers

The Giants have had some big success stories in the minors this year, with outfielders Vaun Brown and Grant McCray opening eyes and third baseman Casey Schmitt drawing Matt Chapman comps. But overall, too many of their best potential trade chips have stalled enough to prevent them from matching the kind of prospect-driven package the Padres gave up.

The Giants could have tried to close the gap with young big leaguers, and Zaidi made it clear to other teams that no player was untouchable at the deadline. But they have the oldest roster in the National League, and besides Logan Webb and Camilo Doval, there are no young players on the roster that rival evaluators view as sure bets. There might have been a version of a trade to be made with some mix of Webb, Doval and all the top prospects the Nationals still trust, but that would have put Soto on a team with no other young talent to build around, and no obvious solutions. in Double-A and Triple-A.

Most of the best Giants prospects are in A-ball, including Matos, who is perhaps the best example of how the Giants have been lacking with Soto. The 20-year-old center fielder was a consensus top 75 prospect coming into the season, but he missed much of the first half with a quad strain and currently has a .576 OPS in High-A.

The Giants are still huge believers in Matos, but as the Soto talks have heated up, it’s been tough to match him up against someone like Wood, a 19-year-old outfielder who has a .996 OPS this season.

“We have much better minor league metrics now than we did five or 10 years ago. We can evaluate defense — (Matos) had a great defensive season in center field. His underlying effectiveness in terms of his exit velocity and the quality of his batted balls are really good, are better than his (batting) line,” Zaidi said. “Those are all things we’re looking at that are encouraging, but again, when you’re trading for a major player, you want prospects that make headlines.”

If their young hitting prospects had improved and had better health — Luciano recently missed two months with a back injury — the Giants would be in a much better place when generational talent became available, but they weren’t. all the way there.

That has to be a disappointment for an organization that has spent three years gaining depth for a moment like this. It should also be a wake-up call.

There will never be another Soto, but there will be someone else. That’s how the game works, and the Giants know it as well as anyone, because they’re going to see Betts and Soto all too often now.

Maybe the next blockbuster will involve Shohei Ohtani, maybe it will be someone else. Either way, the Giants better hope they’re better positioned to win the bid next time.

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