In case anyone was wondering why there is so much Juan Soto talk, it’s because of the rarity of someone so young and already so accomplished would even be available.
Soto finished in the top-five in National League MVP voting the last two years, finishing second to Bryce Harper last season. He doesn’t turn 24 until October.
To put Soto’s age in perspective, he’s younger than every player on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster and 60-day injured list, except for Eddys Leonard and Jorbit Vivas, who are both currently in High-A Great Lakes.
Soto is younger than three of the four players traded by the Dodgers last July for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.
Soto is younger than 15 players on the rosters for this year’s Futures Game at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers last week drafted a player — Taylor Young, eighth-rounder out of Louisiana Tech — older than Soto.
Soto leads the majors with 82 walks this season, after leading the majors with 145 walks last year, the highest season total since supernova Barry Bonds in 2004. Sure, Soto is being pitched around a lot, with 23 intentional walks last season though only four this year with Josh Bell or Nelson Cruz usually hitting behind him. But even when the Nationals were good, Soto had a great eye. He drew 108 walks as a 20-year-old in 2019, when Washington won the World Series.
At the moment, Soto, who led the majors the previous two years in on-base percentage, is a career .292/.426/.539 hitter. With a 160 OPS+, he’s one of only eleven players in the modern era of the National League/American League (1901-present) with at least 2,000 plate appearances of a 150 OPS+ or higher through age 23. Eight of the other 10 are in the Hall of Fame, the other two (Albert Pujols, Mike Trout) will be.
Only two of those players switched teams in their 20s — Jimmie Foxx was traded two months after turning 28, and Arky Vaughan was traded (to the Dodgers) in the offseason, three months shy of turning 30. Soto is 23.
His 118 home runs are 11th-most hit before a 24th birthday, with a decent chance for Soto to move into third place before the end of the season. Eddie Mathews and Mel Ott each hit 153 homers before turning 24. Ken Griffey Jr. is third, with 132 homers.
Soto, currently at 21 career bWAR, including 3.5 bWAR this season, is one of 29 NL/AL players with at least 20 WAR through their age-23 season, with a little over two months remaining in Soto’s age-23 season.
Free agency won’t come for Soto until after the 2024 season, which means acquiring him now gets a team three potential postseason runs with Soto, even before considering whether to re-sign him. Three postseasons is a lot.
The closest recent comparable trade was the Tigers acquiring Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins before the 2008 season, with two years remaining until Cabrera reached free agency. In service time, the equivalent for Soto would be this offseason, but Soto is six months younger than Cabrera was at the time.
Players like Soto don’t come around very often. Players like Soto almost never become available at such a young age. That’s why teams are interested, and rightfully so.