Chicago Cubs can dream of Juan Soto again as Padres plan to reduce payroll

The San Diego Padres are looking to pare down their payroll this offseason, leaving the 24-year-old outfielder's fate in question.

San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

It's time to start dreaming about bringing Juan Soto to the Chicago Cubs again. Following a disastrous season in which they massively underperformed despite going all-in during the offseason, the San Diego Padres are looking to cut back a bit ahead of 2024. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote on Monday that changes are coming for the Friars including streamlining the payroll from around $249 million to just $200 million.

There's only so much the Padres can move. While they have a fair few pieces coming off the books, including presumptive NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, they also have some huge contracts and arbitration to account for. Soto figures to get a huge payday in arbitration in 2024 and was even mentioned as a potential odd man out as they try to get payroll in line.

If, indeed, the Padres opt to deal the superstar left fielder, the Cubs need to take advantage of the situation. It seemed like they wouldn't have another crack at landing him after San Diego gave up a haul for him at the 2022 deadline, but now they have both the money and the means to reel him in.

Soto won't even be 25 until October, meaning he has a TON of prime years left to give whoever trades for him. After a "down" season in which he hit .242/.401/.452 with a 145 wRC+ between Washington and San Diego in 2022, he's been back in true superstar form in 2023 with a .273/.408/.512 line, good for a 153 wRC+ which is directly in line with his career. There's no doubt that, inserted into the Cubs lineup, he would be the big bat they need to get over the top.

The Cubs have every reason to pursue Juan Soto in the offseason

There are just three questions to answer with acquiring Soto - where would you play him, what would the trade cost and what would it cost to extend him? The first answer is easy - it doesn't matter. He's Juan Soto, one of the few hitters in baseball that you make room for no matter what. With Ian Happ playing a solid left field, Soto would be a good fit as the team's DH, spelling Happ or another outfielder when needed. As for Christopher Morel, it'd be extra motivation to finally find him a position to play, or he could be part of the answer to the second question.

Trading for Soto is also an easy answer. The Cubs have built up a far deeper farm system after their quick rebuild and have no shortage of quality prospects to give up in a trade. It'll certainly hurt, but since it's only for one year of Soto, it won't be egregious. The Mookie Betts trade seems like a good comparison. It'll likely cost a very good prospect in the range of guys like Owen Caissie or Kevin Alcantara as part of a package deal of prospects and/or young big-league pieces like Morel. If the Padres are very serious about cutting cash, the Cubs could try to eat a contract like Jake Cronenworth or Matt Carpenter's to lessen the cost.

That's a very doable, and much more sensible, blockbuster deal for the Cubs, especially considering they're rich in outfield prospects and it's not a deal you make without believing you can get an extension done. There's reason to believe the money will be there for Soto too. Previous reports have suggested that the team would have the money available to pursue Shohei Ohtani, after all. It's not unreasonable to think that they could instead use that money to lock up a younger superstar with a track record of offensive dominance throughout his career thus far.

Soto previously turned down $440 million over 15 years from the Nationals, so the contract would definitely need to be huge. Whatever it costs though, this is all more than worth it for the Cubs as they look to enter a new age of competitiveness in the NL Central. If he's available, there's simply no reason for Jed Hoyer and company to not pick up the phone.