The Los Angeles Dodgers were probably never going to be able to trade for Juan Soto this offseason because of the San Diego Padres' likely unwillingness to keep him within the division, but that doesn't mean Soto's potential next team won't affect them.
If there's any chance the Dodgers are interested in Soto after the 2024 season -- which we'd have to assume could be the case if they don't land Shohei Ohtani -- tracking the young slugger's next destination will be crucial.
For example, if he's traded to the New York Yankees, that might be the biggest threat to sign Soto long term, on paper, because of their deep pockets and desperate need for an outfielder. Same goes for the Mets.
But what about a team like ... the Chicago Cubs? They reportedly are among the interested suitors should the Padres make Soto available this offseason, and it could have multiple ripple effects on the Dodgers.
For one, though the Cubs are fairly cheap, they have the money to sign someone like Soto and might consider taking the plunge because he's a generational talent who will be entering his age-26 season when he becomes a free agent. Perhaps a good impression in the Windy City could sway him if it came down to it.
How Cubs' reported interest in Juan Soto affects Dodgers this offseason
But that's not all. Should the Cubs make a move for Soto, that all but officially means Cody Bellinger won't be returning to Chicago because of the contract he's likely to get in free agency this year (some have projected upwards of $200 million). There's also been speculation other teams might be hotter on Bellinger's tail than the Cubs.
So what does that do? Soto goes to another potential NL contender in this scenario and Bellinger ends up ... in the NL West?! In recent days, the Padres and Giants have been listed as possible landing spots for Belli if he hits free agency -- a nightmare outcome for LA, who luckily avoided a lot of the Bellinger backlash in 2023 because of the emergence of James Outman.
The lone silver lining here is that the Dodgers were never going to be in on Soto or Bellinger this winter, so they can still easily focus their outfield search elsewhere, but they probably don't want Soto going to an NL team with the pockets to extend him, nor do they want the possibility of facing Bellinger 13 or more times per year in their own division.
We don't need a deep dive exploring how Bellinger's rediscovered himself. He was finally able to overcome injuries -- that's how it happened. The Dodgers weren't willing to bet on that, and they partially got burned for it, but what's done is done. They don't need the revenge narrative breathing down their neck should he sign with somebody like the Giants. Plus, if Bellinger leaves the Cubs, that arguably gives them more spending power, so they could trade for Soto and then sign somebody like Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Keep Belli in Chicago.
As for Soto? Stay in San Diego, please. Why? He's not re-signing there. The Padres are getting worse whether he's there or not. And the Dodgers already know what he looks like as a competitor within the division, and there's no haunting narrative attached to it.
This sounds overly paranoid, but it's really as simple as this: Soto and Bellinger either need to stay put or go to the American League to avoid a larger ripple effect impacting the Dodgers.