Two key reasons why a Juan Soto trade could likely involve Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin

The Washington Nationals have begun trade talks with outfielder Juan Soto, sources told CBS Sports. The Nationals’ newfound willingness to accept offers for Soto before the Aug. 2 trade deadline has been accelerated by the rejection of a 15-year, $440 million extension offer. When Soto is moved, either at the deadline or in the offseason, rival front offices who spoke to CBS Sports expect veteran lefty Patrick Corbin to be included in the deal.

Including Corbin in a Soto deal would serve two main purposes by 1) balancing the value equation and 2) clearing more money off the books before a potential sale to the Nationals. Let’s break down what they mean using handy subheadings.

1. Balancing the value equation

The reality of trading Soto is that getting what feels like equal (or close) value to him in the form of other players is next to impossible. He’s a 23-year-old Hall of Fame outfielder who will be under team control for three more playoff series. Even if a suitor doesn’t extend him through his free agent years or beyond the 2024 season, he’ll be hiring one of the best players in the game at salaries that are low. That should bring back a ton in return, but teams these days have a tempered view of what they’re willing to give in trades, even for young superstars.

“We’re putting dollar values ​​on everybody now,” a rival front office talent evaluator told CBS Sports. “You can project the value in which Soto will produce [2022-2024] and get that in one or two high-end players with five-plus years of control.”

Pitching Corbin to Soto is a way for the Nationals to get a better deal, but not in the conventional “the other team will add more to them” sense. Rather, Corbin has been a well-below-replacement pitcher over his last 50 starts, compiling a 5.84 ERA (68 ERA+) and a 2.46 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is also owed an additional $60 million over the next two seasons. Rejecting this commitment would be a victory and help even the scales when viewed from the aforementioned cold, calculating, dollar-based framework.

Corbin’s pitching would also free up innings for youth or interesting reclamation projects, which is a lesser (if valid) consideration for the Nationals, who are years away from being competitive based on their roster and the consensus of their farm system.

It’s fair to question the wisdom of attaching Corbin’s contract to Soto, but keep in mind that this has become common practice. The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Guardians were both owed decent coin (David Price, Carlos Carrasco) when they traded Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor. These situations are not exact parallels, but they are as close to recent precedent as you can find here.

Of course, there’s another reason the Nationals would be motivated to move Corbin.

2. Clearing money from the books

From a normal person’s perspective, having Soto on the roster makes the Nationals a more attractive club. The goal is to win games and create a fun product, and it helps with both. Sports owners aren’t normal people, and they certainly don’t view these franchises through the same lens.

The Nationals’ next future owner, whoever they are, will likely view Soto’s long-term extension as a negative. Franchise values ​​these days are such that the owner either has to be ungodly rich (a la Steve Cohen) or rich and leveraged to the hilt to cut the check. For the latter, paying one player nearly $500 million over the next 15 years is an unwelcome burden to bear.

That’s why teams tend to cut costs ahead of an impending sale, and that’s why the Nationals have more incentive to not just refuse to raise their offer to Soto into a realm where he would accept it, but to give up as much as possible. future engagements as possible.

Frankly, the Nationals don’t have many of those. Corbin is one of two Nationals with guaranteed salaries next season: The other is Stephen Strasburg, who has more than $140 million remaining and has made eight starts in the pandemic era. Other team executives expressed doubt that anyone would take over Strasburg’s deal and noted that he has the right to veto any deal using his 10-5 rights — that is, 10 years of service in the major leagues, with the last five coming with his current club.

Then moving Corbin as part of a Soto trade is the best chance to clear the books as much as is realistically possible. That shouldn’t be the primary consideration, not given the franchise changes of trading a player like Soto, but it does matter on some level.

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