What would a Soto-like trade look like in other sports? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
One stat tweeted Tuesday by NBC Sports Washington’s Matt Weyrich lets you know just how rare it is to see a player of Juan Soto’s caliber and age get traded. Weyrich noted how Soto is 15th all-time with a .967 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) and how the only other player in the top 15 to change teams before the age of 25 was Babe Ruth.
Ruth, of course, was part of perhaps the most infamous roster move in sports history. He went from the Red Sox to the Yankees, starting the ‘Curse of the Bambino,’ which if you believe in such things, contributed to an 86-year championship drought for the Sox. It was a crucial narrative in one of the most storied rivalries in all of sports.
The Soto trade is that rare in baseball, yet it seems like it would be even more uncommon if it happened in another sport. There are elements unique to baseball that seem to have contributed to the controversial move.
Like, the fact there is no salary cap and that allows players to make larger contracts over a longer period of time. That leads to a larger gap in resources between teams. The perceived value of individual players is also different, which is why Alex Rodriguez could win MVP in 2003 despite being on a last-place club.
But let’s consider what those parallels would look like if a trade similar to Tuesday’s occurred in one of the other major sports. Whether the comparisons are perfect or not, they should lend perspective to how significant the Soto trade is…
NBA: Luka Doncic (23) or Jayson Tatum (24)
It’s hard to fathom a Soto-like trade going down in the NBA because star players are so coveted and because the salary cap makes for a more even playing field in terms of retaining your own. The prospect of a player leaving in free agency to sign a $500 million contract that spans longer than a decade just isn’t there. So, in spite of all the star movement that goes in the NBA, a true parallel is hard to find.
But if there was one, it would probably include a player like Doncic or Tatum. Doncic is 23 years old, same as Soto, while Tatum is 24. Both are widely considered among the best players in today’s game with a chance to separate themselves as all-time greats over time. According to NBC Sports Washington’s NBA player rankings, Tatum is sixth and Doncic is seventh. Either the Celtics or Mavericks making them available in trades at any point would be a stunning turn of events.
The best recent comparison for a Soto-like blockbuster that actually happened would be the 2019 trade of Anthony Davis from the Pelicans to the Lakers. Davis was only 26, still young though not as young as Soto, and very good. Soto, though, is closer to being the best player in his sport than Davis is or was at the time. Also, Davis was two years away from free agency and his departure was signaled from miles away by credible rumors and the link between him and LeBron James via their agent. Soto, on the other hand, has two-plus years left on his current deal.
NFL: Patrick Mahomes (26) or Josh Allen (25)
While comparing the value of NFL quarterbacks to other sports is never going to be apples-to-apples, the best parallels to Soto in the NFL help illustrate just how surprising such a trade would be. Pro Football Focus has Mahomes as the fifth-best player in the league at just 26 years old. Allen, meanwhile, is ranked seventh and is only 25. Both players have received large contract extensions from their respective teams.
It may be difficult to compare Soto to a quarterback given he’s one of nine players in the lineup, only hits about four times per game and therefore doesn’t impact wins and losses to the same degree. That said, Soto is on track to be the highest-paid player in the sport for a reason. His skill set, as a lefty hitter who can get on base, hit for average and power, is about as valuable as it gets in baseball. Imagine the Chiefs trading Mahomes 2 1/2 years before his free agency because they didn’t want to pay him. It’s hard to comprehend.
NHL: Auston Matthews (24)
Most of the best players in the NHL are a bit older than Soto, but Matthews, the 2021-22 winner of the Hart Trophy (the NHL’s MVP award), is only 24. Matthews has also led the NHL in goals each of the last two seasons. TSN ranks him as the 3rd-best player in hockey, which is similar to Soto whom MLB.com has fourth in baseball. Like Soto, Matthews is among the best players in his sport specifically because of his offense. Also like Soto, Matthews has two years left on his current contract. At this point, there don’t appear to be any serious trade rumors involving Matthews and Toronto executive Brendan Shanahan has maintained their plans to re-sign him.
If a Soto-like blockbuster ever did go down in the NHL, it wouldn’t be unprecedented. Hockey has the ultimate ‘if he can be traded, anyone can’ example because Wayne Gretzky was dealt after his Age 27 season, right in the middle of his prime, and after he had won a preposterous eight MVP awards in a 9-year span. The team that traded him, the Edmonton Oilers, had also won the previous four championships with him as their best player. Not unlike the Nationals with Soto, the franchise felt they couldn’t pay their star as he approached free agency.
The result was a trade so shocking and significant, the Canadian government tried to block it from going through (an idea for Congress?). So, in that sense, maybe it could be worse. At least the Nationals didn’t trade the greatest player of all time at the peak of his powers. At least there’s that.