juan soto mets rumors
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We’re still one month away from MLB’s 2023 regular season getting underway, but next offseason’s free-agent market just took a hit. About a week after publicly saying he planned to opt-out after the season, Manny Machado and the San Diego Padres agreed to an extension. Does that mean his teammate, Juan Soto, just shot to the top of the Mets’ wishlist?

Machado’s extension isn’t a cheap one, either. Reports had him and San Diego nearly $150 million apart in recent negotiations. Both sides compromised, but the Padres definitely went 90% before Machado went the last 10%:

OK, so how does this impact the Mets? Outside of having to face and beat Machado and the Pads in their own pursuit of a championship, New York was rumored to be considering the third baseman for next winter if he hit the open market.

This is life as a Mets fan with Steve Cohen in charge. New York is in on all major free agents unless someone says otherwise. There were several variables in play for the Amazins even having a legitimate interest in Machado in the first place. And, if Brett Baty’s start to spring training is the beginning of a breakout year, maybe it would’ve been a moot point anyways.

But still, since his name came out as an option once the Carlos Correa deal finally fell apart, Machado and the Mets would’ve been connected in the rumor mill until he signed with a team that doesn’t reside in Flushing.

Machado staying in San Diego just makes the debate between him and Shohei Ohtani that much easier, right? We know Cohen is already enamored with the idea of landing the two-way Japanese star. So he’ll just throw a bunch of money at him, general manager Billy Eppler will woo him with their prior relationship, and manager Buck Showalter will ensure Ohtani the Mets are committed to winning, and we’re all set, right?

Well, not so much. It’s obvious the Mets have become a prime landing spot over the past couple of years. However, there’s one thing they can’t change: their location. When Ohtani first landed with the Los Angeles Angels, he didn’t consider any tams on the East Coast. In fact, the only club that didn’t play in the AL or NL West was the Chicago Cubs.

A lot of time has passed since then, and feelings change. Traveling around the country to play baseball for the past several years may make Ohtani more comfortable on the East Coast than he originally was. Or, maybe not. We’ve also heard reports that the 2021 AL MVP enjoys his privacy, which he’d likely have much less of if he played baseball in New York.

None of that means the Mets still won’t do what they can to reel him in should he become a free agent. However, those potential disadvantages could definitely be the difference between landing Ohtani and watching him sign elsewhere.

So what does this all have to do with Soto? The 24-year-old is set to become a free agent after the 2024 season. The Padres have shown a willingness to spend with the big boys in recent years. But between the contracts for Machado, Xander Bogaerts, and Fernando Tatis Jr., can they swing a deal in the $400-500 million range for Soto?

They’re also rumored to be interested in pursuing Ohtani next winter. If San Diego were to land him, one would think Soto is more likely to sign with another team. And if the Mets watch Ohtani head elsewhere, that’d probably motivate Cohen and Co. even more to get the next big fish (we know he doesn’t like hearing the word “no”).

We can’t also ignore the fact that he loves playing against the Mets at Citi Field. He talked about that during the 2022 All-Star break, mentioning his numbers in Flushing are “amazing”.

He’s not wrong, obviously.

In 30 career games (125 plate appearances) at Citi Field, Soto owns a .350/.464/.709 line with 10 homers and 23 RBI. Of course, he may just enjoy visiting New York to beat up on the Mets. However, he also liked a comment on one of his Instagram pictures this offseason that said “500 million dollar man. Queens is waiting.”

Maybe he just likes the $500 million part of that comment. Or, maybe he likes all of it. We can at least assume Mets outfielder Starling Marte likes the idea of Soto coming to Queens.

It’s going to be a long couple of years before Soto hits free agency. He’s probably not going anywhere before then with how the Padres are currently spending. But once he does, the outfielder will probably be looking for more than the $440 million he rejected from the Washington Nationals before they traded him.

And, as usual, Soto is represented by Scott Boras. The Mets and Boras have already seen one long-term deal worth in excess of $300 fall apart (see: Correa, Carlos). But the organization and MLB super-agent are much more in sync than they ever were during the Wilpon regime.

Outside of Ohtani, Soto is definitely the most elite player that could become available within the next couple of winters. With that in mind, you know the Mets will be involved. It’ll just be a matter of how badly (or not) they may want him at that point.

Matt Musico can be reached at matt.musico@xlmedia.com and you can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.

Matt Musico is an editor for ESNY. He’s been writing about baseball and the Mets for the past decade. His work has been featured on numberFire, MetsMerized Online, Bleacher Report, and Yahoo! Sports.