Juan Soto traded to NL West and more MLB second-half predictions originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
With the All-Star break in the rearview, the 2022 MLB season is about to kick into high gear.
The MLB trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and this year’s deadline could see one of the game’s best players get moved in Juan Soto.
Once the deadline passes, the race for the playoffs will be on with just over two months of the regular season remaining. Not only will teams be vying for playoff positions, but star players will be looking to cement their résumés for the major end-of-season awards.
As the second half gets underway, here are some predictions for the 2022 World Series, MVP winners, where Soto will end up and more.
Nationals trade Juan Soto to Padres
The San Diego Padres have made a splash at each of the past two trade deadlines, getting Mike Clevinger two years ago and Adam Frazier last year. Why not make it three in a row with one of the best young players in baseball?
Soto reportedly could be had in a trade after rejecting the biggest contract in MLB history at 15 years, $440 million from the Washington Nationals. The Nats don’t have to rush to trade the 23-year-old superstar, but rival executives believe a deal will go down by the Aug. 2 deadline, per ESPN’s Buster Olney.
So why the Padres? Well, San Diego is a team in win-now mode and the addition of Soto would substantially improve their postseason chances against the elite teams in the National League. The Padres can offer a package headlined by shortstop C.J. Abrams, a top-10 overall prospect in 2021, and outfielder Robert Hassell III, a current top-25 overall prospect. The haul for Soto won’t stop there, but San Diego certainly has the talent pool to get a deal done.
The biggest question for the Padres in a potential pursuit of Soto is whether they can afford to extend him when they already have a pair of massive deals on their books. Fernando Tatis Jr. is in the second year of a 14-year, $340 million deal, while Manny Machado has six years, $180 million left on his contract with an opt-out after 2023. Would the Padres, who have one of MLB’s largest payrolls, be able to make another massive financial commitment? If the answer is no, San Diego could bank on Machado opting out after 2023 and then pay Soto, who’s seven years younger, instead.
Trading for Soto without an extension in place would be a gamble, but being guaranteed at least two runs with those three studs is a risk worth taking for a franchise that is seeking its first World Series. Even in a worst-case scenario, the Padres could always trade Soto before he hits free agency to recoup some of the value lost in attaining him.
Aaron Judge reaches elusive 60-homer mark
There hasn’t been a 60-homer season in MLB since home run king Barry Bonds hit 73 and Sammy Sosa hit 64 in the 2001 campaign. The closest anyone has come to the milestone since was Giancarlo Staton in 2017, when he hit 59 with the Miami Marlins. Over the next couple of months, Stanton could witness one of his New York Yankees teammates achieve the feat he fell just short of.
Aaron Judge entered the All-Star break with an MLB-best 33 home runs. At his pre-All-Star-break pace (one home run roughly every 2.7 games), Judge is on track to come up just shy of the mark like Stanton. To reach 60, he needs to hit 27 over the Yankees’ final 70 games, which would take one home run in roughly every 2.6 games. Judge’s chase for 60 dingers could come down to New York’s final handful of contests, but it’s hard to bet against the four-time All-Star outfielder with the season he’s having.
Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman win MVP
You’d think Judge would be the runaway American League MVP favorite. He has a chance of becoming just the sixth player in MLB history to hit at least 60 homers in a season. He leads the bigs in homers (33), runs (74) and fWAR (4.8), while sitting second in the AL in RBIs (70) and OPS (.981). And his team has the best record in baseball. But the reigning AL MVP isn’t going away quietly.
Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani has been one of the AL’s best pitchers with a 9-4 record and a 2.38 ERA. Oh yeah, and he’s hit 19 home runs with 56 RBIs and a .835 OPS. Ohtani is also right on Judge’s heels in fWAR at 4.7. So how does Judge top that two-way success? He’ll need a historic season at the plate (at least 60 home runs) and some pitching regression from Ohtani. With that, along with a sizable advantage in team success, Judge should earn his first MVP award.
Over in the National League, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is considered the current MVP favorite and rightfully so. The seven-time All-Star first baseman paces MLB in on-base percentage (.414) while leading the NL in batting average (.330), slugging percentage (.590) and OPS (1.004). But a fellow first baseman and former NL MVP is lurking.
Freddie Freeman is enjoying a torrid month of July. Through 15 games, the Los Angeles Dodgers six-time All-Star is hitting .407/.448/.729 with five homers and 10 RBIs. Goldschmidt, meanwhile, has cooled off this month, hitting .276/.364/.397 with one homer and five RBIs. With the two trending in opposite directions, here’s how they stack up head-to-head entering the second half:
Goldschmidt: .330 BA, .414. OBP, .590 SLG, 1.004 OPS, 20 HRs, 70 RBIs, 4.5 fWAR
Freeman: .321 BA, .397 OBP, .530 SLG, .927 OPS, 13 HRs, 59 RBIs, 4.2 fWAR
Goldschmidt’s teammate Nolan Arenado, who leads the NL in fWAR at 4.7, Austin Riley, Pete Alonso and Manny Machado can’t be ruled out of the MVP race, either. However, after winning his first MVP in the shortened 2020 season, Freeman looks primed to make a run at reclaiming the award in 2022.
Mets and Yankees meet in Subway World Series II
In 2000, the New York Mets and Yankees met in the World Series for the first time ever, with the Yanks emerging as champions in five games. Twenty-two years later, we could witness a second Subway World Series.
The Yankees and Mets come out of the All-Star break with the first- and fourth-best records in baseball, respectively. The Yankees posted a run differential of plus-199 in the first half, pacing MLB in homers and sitting third in team ERA as they ripped off 64 wins.
The Mets, meanwhile, have managed to maintain their NL East lead with 58 wins despite getting just 11 combined starts out of their pair of multi-time Cy Young award winners. Jacob deGrom has yet to pitch with the Mets this season due to a right shoulder injury and Max Scherzer returned earlier this month from a near-two-month absence.
The biggest threat to a Subway World Series II is the competition level in the NL compared to the AL. The Yankees, who have a huge lead in the AL East, should avoid the wild card round and be considered heavy favorites against any team other than the Houston Astros. Anything short of a competitive loss to the Astros in the ALCS would be a massive disappointment.
The Mets, on the other hand, aren’t a lock to get a first-round bye and thus could have a scenario where they have to go through the Padres, Braves and Dodgers just to get to the World Series. But the bet here is that New York will have a healthy deGrom and Scherzer by the time the postseason begins. With those two throwing multiple games in a series, the Mets will be equipped to handle the dangerous lineups they’ll encounter on their way to a World Series battle with their cross-town rivals.