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

·7 min read

Why Soto trade talks were so disappointing for Giants, Zaidi originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

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

Soto became a San Diego Padre last Tuesday in one of the biggest trades 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 -- who wouldn't -- and the Padres hand him a $500 million check.

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

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

The Giants have the financial ability to be in on any player of Soto's caliber, even though they haven't flexed it the last couple of offseasons. They offered Bryce Harper, another former National, $310 million three years ago, and in the years since they have watched one big salary after another come off their books as the massive Mission Rock development has grown in a parking lot across the cove.

Before the season, the Giants had a rapidly-improving farm system that could cover the acquisition cost of someone like Soto. But multiple top prospects have stalled, gotten injured or taken a step back, and as Soto became available, they had no real way of matching what A.J. Preller and the Padres ultimately gave up.

In left-hander MacKenzie Gore, shortstop C.J. 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 up on Baseball America's current top 100.

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

Comparing unproven players in their early twenties is not 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 have had good years but the development has not been there for others who might have filled out a proposed Soto trade.

The player immediately behind those two coming into the season was Joey Bart, who has had a rough rookie season at the plate. Next up was Luis Matos, who was rising fast 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 hasn't dominated 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) have fallen far down even the Giants’ top 30 prospects lists.

During an appearance on Giants Talk last week, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaid said he had a lot of conversations with Nationals exec 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. Certain prospect rankings update during the season, but current year performance matters a lot in how the industry views these players," Zaidi said. "Health or underperformance -- which the reality is, we've seen with a few of our players -- can really impact their short-term value even if you are still very bullish on their long-term prospects.

"Even from a PR standpoint, I think when you're talking about trading away a star player, a franchise player, you don't want to say the second- or third-best player you got is hitting .175 in a-ball. That represents a little bit of a challenge in situations like we found ourselves in this trade deadline but it doesn't impact our view of our system in the long run. We think our guys are going to get healthier."

RELATED: Webb has 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 keep them from matching the type 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 other than Logan Webb and Camilo Doval, there are no young players on the roster that rival evaluators view as surefire bets. Perhaps there was 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 came up short 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 heated up, it was hard 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) has had a great defensive season in center field. His underlying performance in terms of his exit velocity and the quality of his batted balls is really good, is better than his (batting) line," Zaidi said. "Those are all things that we look at that are encouraging, but again, when you're trading for a headline player you want prospects that are putting up headline performances."

If their young hitting prospects had gotten off to better starts and had better health -- Luciano recently missed two months with a back injury -- the Giants would have been in a much better spot when a generational talent became available, but they weren't quite there.

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

There will never be another Soto, but there will be someone else. That's the way the game works, and the Giants know it as well as anybody, because they'll now see Betts and Soto far too often.

Perhaps the next blockbuster will involve Shohei Ohtani, perhaps it will be someone else. Either way, the Giants better hope they're better positioned to win the bidding next time.

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