It was about this time last year that a survey of club executives around the league first forecast that the Nationals might choose to deal Juan Soto, and Washington general manager Mike Rizzo responded with ardent denials. "We are not trading Juan Soto," Rizzo said in a radio interview. "We made it clear to his agent and to the player. … We have every intention of building this team around Juan Soto, and we've spoken to his agent many, many times.

"I guess the rest of the world doesn't believe it, but that's our position."

Two months later, Soto was wearing a Padres uniform.

So what are some of those same execs seeing in this year's early trade market conditions? We asked and they answered, offering some hard opinions on the X factors that loom.


1. Where will the biggest chips emerge?

In recent seasons, several real difference-makers have been swapped before the deadline, from Manny Machado in 2018 to Soto and Josh Hader in 2022. But some execs don't see a lot of significant help shaking free this summer, partly because the likely sellers' rosters are — to put it mildly — really, really bad. "You look at a team like [Oakland]," said one front-office type. "Who on that roster is going to be a difference-maker?"

The Athletics and Cincinnati Reds have already flipped their most expensive major league talent for prospects. The Royals have some young players attractive to rival execs, but are expected to keep the likes of Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino and Brady Singer. The Royals' Brad Keller is generally viewed as an intriguing talent, but given his continuing struggles, a lot of contenders would likely view him as more of a lottery ticket than a highly valued asset — especially since he'll be a free agent in the fall. Tigers could take offers for Matthew Boyd, but the same injury history that led most teams to pass on him this offseason before he took a one-year deal to go back to Detroit likely diminishes how attractive he is to contenders this summer.

Eduardo Rodriguez is a name to watch, because he has been excellent early in a season after which he could opt out of the last three years of his contract; he is slated to make $49 million from 2024 to 2026. If Rodriguez continues to throw well and the Tigers become convinced he'll walk away as a free agent this offseason, they could make him available in front of contenders.


2. Will Shohei Ohtani hit the market?

At the moment, industry sources are as close to unequivocal as you can get about the Angels' plans for Ohtani. "They are not going to trade him," said one executive. Said another: "If they were going to deal him, the best time would've been last summer. But unless they completely collapse, no shot."

What some rival evaluators believe is that Angels owner Arte Moreno, who went on the record during spring training saying that Ohtani won't be dealt as long as his team is in contention, does not want to be remembered as the guy who pushed this generation's Babe Ruth out of his organization. (Especially since that is the legacy of late Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, who dealt Ruth to the Yankees.)

It's hard to find anyone who believes that Ohtani will re-sign with the Angels after he hits the free agent market. But if he does leave Anaheim, Moreno will at least have an out: It would be Ohtani's choice to depart, not because Moreno ushered him out of town.