Juan Soto, relievers for Phillies and more as Winter Meetings begin

Juan Soto, relievers for Phillies and more as Winter Meetings begin originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies wasted little time in making a splash a year ago at baseball's Winter Meetings, agreeing to a $300 million contract with Trea Turner on the first full day in San Diego.

A year later, the hub of activity is in Nashville, and any splash made by the Phillies would qualify as at least a mild surprise.

The Phillies got their heaviest lift out of the way before Thanksgiving, signing free agent Aaron Nola to a seven-year contract worth $172 million. Nola was their top offseason priority because of the void his departure would have created in the rotation. Filling 200 quality innings isn't easy or cheap.

While re-signing a player who's been in the organization for a decade doesn't typically conjure the same sort of buzz as bringing in an All-Star from out of town, Nola could very well be the Phillies' "big move" this offseason. If that's the case, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has said twice since the season ended that he feels the Phillies as currently constructed can contend for the World Series again in 2024.

It doesn't mean they won't listen. It doesn't mean they won't explore opportunities. Dombrowski is often proactive in trying to fill holes before they fully present themselves. He also gave a straightforward analysis after the Phillies' stunning NLCS collapse to the Diamondbacks that the team needs to chase fewer pitches, and exhibit better plate selection.

It just so happens that the player who controls plate appearances as well as anyone in the game, Juan Soto, is on the trade market.

Soto has drawn plenty of interest. The Yankees and Blue Jays have already been connected to him, though the reporting to this point has indicated a gap in negotiations with the Padres. Soto is a free agent after the season and is likely to earn a 2024 salary north of $30 million as he goes through the arbitration process for the final time.

Soto is still just 25 years old, which seems impossible but he was hitting .290 with a .400 on-base percentage in the majors at 19. He's younger now than Bryce Harper was when the Phillies signed him in 2019.

The prospect cost for Soto would sting. Based on what the Padres have reportedly sought from the Yankees, the asking price from the Phillies would likely involve several of their top pitching prospects along with at least one young major-leaguer able to contribute immediately. They could also ask the Phillies or any team to take on one of their bad contracts. It may not require all of that, but it would likely be where the talks start. The competition for Soto will be fierce because he's such a rare talent.

The other major factor in a Soto trade is his next contract. Will it reach $400 million? Will it exceed $400 million? How many of those gigantic contracts in the 10-year range can one team maintain? The Phillies are already poised to spend more than ever before next season, though there's obviously no salary cap. There is also the question of how many many years away Soto, a below-average fielder, is from being a DH.

It would be complicated, but you never say never. As confident as the Phillies are in their ability to return to the postseason, there's no denying an offensive boost would give them a better chance than the status quo. Soto would provide a massive offensive boost and change the personality of the Phillies' lineup, as he'd do anywhere he goes.

Reliever market

The Phils' most apparent need is back-end relief help. They will return Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez, Jeff Hoffman, Gregory Soto, Orion Kerkering and Matt Strahm but lost Craig Kimbrel to free agency. As ignominiously as Kimbrel's year with the Phillies ended, he did finish 49 games for them and they'll need someone to soak up those leverage innings, ideally more effectively.

The top free-agent reliever is Josh Hader, after which there is a drastic drop-off. An elite closer can be crucial to a team in the Phillies' position, but Hader might end up with the richest reliever contract ever, topping $100 million. Given his self-imposed usage restrictions, you wonder about that price tag, even with his dominance.

Beyond Hader, you're looking at free agents like Jordan Hicks, Hector Neris, David Robertson, Dylan Floro, Liam Hendriks, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Chafin and Will Smith. Relievers of this ilk have little incentive to jump on a modest offer early in the offseason because supply and demand are more likely to result in a multi-year contract, or at least an attractive option.

Only a handful of relievers have come off the board. The Braves signed Reynaldo Lopez and Joe Jimenez to market-setting three-year contracts worth $30 million and $26 million. The Reds signed Nick Martinez for $26 million over two years and Emilio Pagan for $16 million over two years with an opt-out after the first. Joe Kelly is returning to the Dodgers on a one-year deal for a reported $8 million.

Discussions and frameworks for trades often begin or intensify at the Winter Meetings and the Phillies could opt to fill their relief need that way if they don't like the asks from this somewhat thin crop of free-agent bullpen arms.