For starters, know this: It would be supremely painful. That is the only part of this whole exercise that isn’t debatable.

You don’t trade for a generational player such as Juan Soto at age 23 without wincing, intensely debating if it’s really worth it, wondering if you’ve gone crazy, wincing again, and only then pulling the trigger. The offer would have to be massive, perhaps unprecedented — so much so that at some point you’d be left wondering, as an organization, if you’re giving up so much it defeats the whole purpose of acquiring him.

And yet I still think the Mariners should jump into the Soto Sweepstakes.

You might have heard the seismic development that roiled the baseball world Saturday. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported, and numerous sources confirmed, that Soto has rejected the Washington Nationals’ 15-year, $440-million contract offer. The Nats will therefore entertain trade offers for Soto before the Aug. 2 trade deadline.

Now, before you scream that the Mariners would never swim in those financial waters, consider that the ability (or even the desire) to sign Soto is not necessarily a condition for making this trade. Here’s the lure: Soto does not become a free agent until after the 2024 season. The team that acquires the left-handed outfielder, universally regarded as one of the top three players in baseball and still ascending at — it bears repeating — age 23, gets him for three pennant races. And, presumably, three postseasons.

That’s why the Mariners have to at least consider this, and I suspect will do just that. Can you imagine pairing Soto and skyrocketing 21-year-old Julio Rodriguez in the outfield for the next 2½ years? It would instantly stamp the Mariners, already the sensation of baseball with their 14-game winning streak, as a legitimate World Series contender this year and the next two.

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Context matters here. The Mariners, as we know all too well, haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001. That warrants some boldness, some audacity. And make no mistake: If the Mariners somehow pull this off, it would be the most audacious trade in club, and perhaps major league, history.

Jeff Passan of ESPN opined it would take the biggest trade package ever to land Soto — a “Herschel Walker deal,” said an unnamed executive quoted by Passan. And this is the time to ponder whether the cost in players would be prohibitive. Because there is absolutely a price point at which it’s not worth it to bankrupt the future and disrupt the magic going on right now with the Mariners. GM Jerry Dipoto has said his goal is to build a team that can contend annually, not just occasionally. A Soto trade run amok could conceivably torpedo that process.

But I’d love to see Dipoto try to maneuver his way into a proposal that doesn’t thwart the team’s long-term chances. He is certainly been proven skillful at deal-making. And I think he’s got a fighter’s chance. The Mariners built their farm system to a No. 1 ranking; it’s fallen from that standard as players such as Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Cal Raleigh have graduated to the majors. But there still is a package to be put together that would make the Nationals take notice.

Yes, the Nationals will want Rodriguez. They won’t get him. If that’s a deal-breaker, so be it. This subject is closed. It was a nice dream. But I think the Mariners can craft an enticing offer that doesn’t include Julio.

You’d start, no doubt, with Jarred Kelenic, who not that long ago was rated higher than Rodriguez in some quarters and still has tremendous upside at age 23, despite his big-league struggles. Then add shortstop Noelvi Marte and pitcher Emerson Hancock, who are the cream of the Mariners’ current prospect crop.

Sorry, still not painful enough. It will probably take one more top prospect to get the Nats to take notice. Maybe a young shortstop like Edwin Arroyo, who just hit Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list at No. 49 or catcher Harry Ford, last year’s No. 1 draft pick.

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Yeah, it’s starting to hurt. Badly. And it should. I will interject here that casual fans might not appreciate just how good Soto is. He’s transcendent. When The Athletic did a poll of baseball experts before the season on the best players in the game just three were in the very top tier: Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani … and Juan Soto.

Ignore his .250 average (which is on the rise — .423/.595/.769 over his past 18 games) in a Nats’ lineup that offers little protection. Look instead at Soto’s .405 on-base percentage, fourth-best in baseball, his 20 homers, and peripherals that suggest he’ll be a beast in the second half, especially in a lineup that offers more protection.

And then look back at his body of work, already prodigious despite his age. Soto was a leading factor in the Nats’ World Series title run in 2019, when in his first full season at age 20 he finished ninth in the MVP voting and was perhaps their best hitter in the World Series. At age 21, he led the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Last year, he was the MVP runner-up to Bryce Harper after a .313/.465/.534, 7.1-WAR season. He would electrify the Mariners’ lineup, especially when paired with Rodriguez — who is headed to the Soto stratosphere.

The Nationals, mired at 31-63 and in the process of selling their team, will be building for the future. Will they want someone off the Mariners’ major-league roster with ample club control — like, say, a Ty France? Or a Kirby? Or a Matt Brash? Or a Gilbert?

Bank on it. This is where Dipoto would have to get creative to cut down on the asking price — if the market itself doesn’t do that on its own. The assumption is that Soto is destined to hit the open market, as Scott Boras clients invariably do. So other than getting a leg up on the competition by breeding familiarity, whomever lands Soto has no guarantee of keeping him. While the Nationals’ asking price will be steep, they could discover that no one is willing to meet it.

But there’s potentially a way for a team to move to the head of the pack without an outrageous expenditure of players. Namely, by taking on some or all of a couple of bad contracts the Nationals — and a prospective purchaser of the team — would love to get out from under.

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One is Stephen Strasburg, who is in the middle of what has turned out to be a disastrous seven-year, $245 million contract that pays him $35 million annually through 2026. Strasburg barely pitched last year, has thrown just four innings this year and likely won’t pitch again in 2022 because of a flare-up of his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome injury. It’s hard to know how much Strasburg can contribute down the road, but any team willing to absorb part of the remaining contract — complicated by deferred money, but that’s for the brains to figure out — would likely have an edge.

Same goes, perhaps even more realistically, for Patrick Corbin, who is pitching this year — just not very well. In fact, Corbin has been one of the worst starters in the league (4-12, 5.87 in 19 starts, with a league-high 134 hits allowed in 99 innings). Corbin, 32, is owed the remainder of his $23 million salary this year, $24 million in ’23 and $35 million in ’24 (also with a lot of deferred money). Again, pick up some of that contract and get a leg up — and hope your pitching gurus can fix Corbin, a top starter not too long ago.

The Mariners are well-positioned to potentially take on payroll with a (comparatively) low payroll and few long-term salary obligations. In fact, that’s why you could argue they are also positioned to at least make a run at extending Soto (who is making $17 million this year and is arbitration-eligible the next two season) if they obtained him, even while giving Rodriguez his inevitable long-term contract extension. That would take a major philosophical shift from ownership, but if the Mariners could wrap up a title or two before 2025 and get the turnstiles humming like they were in the early 2000s, it’s an intriguing thought. And an audacious scenario that isn’t implausible. Their current run has at least earned them the consideration.

It comes down to this: The Mariners have always said their ultimate goal is to win the World Series, but they haven’t always shown it with their actions, to the great frustration of fans. Here could be a chance to show they have the imagination — and courage — to take their boldest step yet in that direction.