ST. LOUIS – It’s not every year that a standout athlete in the prime of his career hits the trade block. It’s even rarer that the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues could be in play for one at the same time.
Trade buzz has intensified for Juan Soto and Matthew Tkachuk in recent weeks, two young athletes with years of experience that represent potential franchise building blocks in baseball and hockey.
While it’s not a guarantee either Soto or Tkachuk could be traded soon, recent developments suggest a move could be likely for both. St. Louis could be the ultimate destination if either looks to immediately join a contender, but there’s plenty to unpack about where things stand and what a possible move to St. Louis could mean for the future.
Last week, Juan Soto turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract offer from the Washington Nationals that would have made him the highest-paid player in MLB history, according to reports from Nationals beat reporter Jessica Camerato. The 23-year-old outfielder has quite a polished resume at a young age with a .293 career batting average, 118 home runs, 255 RBIs and a 2019 World Series title under his belt.
Soto currently has two more years of team control remaining until he can become an unrestricted free agent. The Nationals leave the All-Star break with an MLB-worst 31-63 record and a bottom-10 MLB Pipeline farm system, suggesting a lengthy rebuild could be imminent. Add all of that together with Soto rejecting a potentially record-breaking deal, it’s possible the Nationals could move on from their star and land whatever assets might be available.
If the Nationals explore trades for Soto, the team would likely be able to best maximize its return before the Aug. 2 MLB trade deadline. Several oddsmakers say the Cardinals could be among the teams to land the star, but give the team mixed chances of making that happen.
CBS Sports recently analyzed the chances of every MLB team landing Soto, ranking the Cardinals as the top-most likely landing spot. The report mentions the Cardinals’ willingness to make big trades, such as Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in recent seasons, and minor league depth as two possible reasons St. Louis could be the next spot for Soto.
A report Thursday from The Athletic released Thursday suggests several rookies, prospects and young players could be in play if the Cardinals swing a deal for Soto. The report hints a possible package could include some of Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan, Juan Yepez, Matthew Liberatore, Masyn Winn, Alec Burleson, Michael McGreevy or Gordon Graceffo.
The Cardinals leave the All-Star break at 50-44 and half a game from the NL Central division lead. Before any in-depth trade talks, the front office will need to consider if they can sign Soto to a similar long-term extension offered by the Nationals, and if not, what kind of assets the team might be willing to give up with Soto under control only through 2025.
With a track record of big-name midseason trades in the past, including Mark McGwire and Matt Holliday, it seems likely the Cardinals will engage in talks with the Nationals on Soto and possibly veteran pitcher Patrick Corbin. If the Cardinals land the top prize, the franchise might need to divert from recent narrative with long-term deals. Soto would likely command a contract that far exceeds any contract awarded in Cardinals history, one that could possibly triple a franchise-record $130 million contract offered to Goldschmidt in 2019.
Earlier this week, Matthew Tkachuk informed the Calgary Flames that he does not intend to sign a long-term extension with the team, according to a report from The Athletic. After his first 100-point season last year, Tkachuk could become a free agent in 2023 without a new deal.
Calgary elected for salary arbitration in Tkachuk’s final season of team control. The Flames could try to accelerate a rebuild by moving the 24-year-old forward after another top scorer, Johnny Gaudreau, left the team in free agency last week. Tkachuk would likely be a hot commodity for his two-way skill set that has led him to 152 goals, 230 assists and 596 hits over six seasons.
Per The Atheltic’s report, Tkachuk’s list of preferred destinations would include St. Louis and at least four other teams, including division rivals Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. A possible move to the Blues would represent a unique homecoming of sorts for Tkachuk, whose father Keith played nine seasons with the Blues from 2000 to 2010. Because of that, Matthew grew up in the St. Louis area and was heavily involved in local junior hockey programs.
Similar to Soto in the baseball world, the Flames would likely get their best return for Tkachuk sooner than later, at least before teams gear up for the 2022-23 trade season. Oddsmakers haven’t invested as much time into the Tkachuk sweepstakes, but some hockey reports show promise for the Blues.
One factor to keep in mind, the Blues would desperately need to clear up some salary for the upcoming season and beyond to even consider acquiring Tkachuk. After a flurry of early-offseason moves that resulted in veteran forward David Perron departing, the Blues have less than one million dollars in cap space ahead of the 2022-23 season, per CapFriendly.com. With some experts projecting at least a $9 million cap hit for Tkachuk beyond 2023, the Blues would likely need to invest more than 10% of their allotted salary on the young forward.
Acquiring Tkachuk would likey require the Blues to part ways with prospects and dump at least one or two pricy players. It’s unclear if St. Louis would consider moving longtime star Vladimir Tarsenko after he reportedly requested a trade last offseason, then followed up with a career-best 82 points. Tarasenko, like Tkachuk, would become a free agent after the 2023 season without a new contract.
Depending on how much salary the Flames would consider taking on, a veteran defenseman could also be considered. Torey Krug or Marco Scandella, who both have multiple years remaining on their contracts, might be names worth monitoring in upcoming weeks. The Athletic and TheHockeyWriters.com also hint that young center Jordan Kyrou could be a highly-coveted piece, possibly more than some of the Blues’ top prospects.
The Blues are now three seasons removed from their only Stanley Cup championship in franchise history and have largely dismantled the title team aside from a few core pieces. The Blues have not advanced past the second round of playoffs since then, and the division Colorado Avalanche eliminated the Blues from playoffs the last two seasons before winning a Stanley Cup last month. With uncertainties over the salary cap over the next few seasons, the Blues might have to play chess for a blockbuster, but it could be one that immediately pays off for the franchise.
St. Louis Weighs In…
Mainly out of curiosity, I ran a poll via Twitter Wednesday, collecting hundreds of responses on the possibility of a Soto or Tkachuk trade to St. Louis. Based on those results, as of 2 p.m. Thursday…
- Around half of voters believe a Tkachuk trade to the Blues would be more realistic than a Soto trade to the Cardinals.
- Around 18% believe a Soto trade seems the most realistic of potential outcomes.
- Another 18% believe both trades could realistically happen.
- Around 10% believe neither trade would realistically happen.
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