Juan Soto is career .284 hitter and enters a contract...

Juan Soto is career .284 hitter and enters a contract year at age 25. Credit: Getty Images/Ezra Shaw

NASHVILLE — It was a deal that had to happen, even if Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn’t put it exactly in those terms.

Indeed, the Yankees’ deal for Juan Soto, considered one of the best offensive players in the game almost from the time he made his debut with the Nationals in 2018 at the age of 19, made too much sense.

That became the case once the salary-dumping, pitching-and-catching-needy Padres made clear their intent to move the 25-year-old Soto, due $33 million this season in his walk year before free agency, almost making inevitable a union with the offense-starved Yankees, who entered the winter in the market for two outfielders.

Cashman, though not publicly putting the trade in the had-to-get-done category Thursday afternoon, nonetheless stated the importance of landing a player he first tried to pry from the Padres before last season’s trade deadline for his sputtering offense.

“There clearly was a match to be made here,” Cashman said during a Zoom news conference.

The deal, which hit some early snags as the Yankees thought the initial asking price was too high — “a lot of twists and turns in it,” as Cashman put it— officially came together late Wednesday night.

The Yankees received Soto, a three-time All-Star who helped lead the Nationals to a World Series title in 2019, and defense-first centerfielder Trent Grisham and sent righthanders Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez and catcher Kyle Higashioka to the Padres.

Juan Soto's career stats

Age: 25

Games: 779

Plate appearances: 3,375

Average: .284

Doubles: 148

Home runs: 160

RBI: 483

Stolen bases: 50

On-base percentage: .421

Slugging percentage: .524

“I think both teams in the end got exactly what they [were] looking for,” said Cashman, who earlier said he had not had “any conversations” with Soto’s agent, Scott Boras, on an extension. “It hurt a lot on our end to give up some real pieces, but you have to give to get, and we certainly imported one of the best hitters that the game has today.”

The deal for Soto, along with the one on Tuesday for lefty-hitting outfielder Alex Verdugo, instantly transformed what had been the Yankees’ righty-heavy lineup.

And it gave the Yankees arguably the most devastating 2-3 lineup combination (however they deploy them) in the game with Soto and Aaron Judge.

“Significantly better, no doubt about it,” Cashman said of how much the trade improves an offense that finished 25th in the majors in runs (673) last season, 27th in on-base percentage (.397) and 29th in batting average (.227), the biggest reason the Yankees finished 82-80 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2016. “Just alone, how many teams can run out, on a pro scouting scale of 20 to 80 (80 being the highest), how many teams are running out two 8s in their outfield with a Judge and Soto? It’s hard to run out multiple 8s in any category, whether it’s outfield, infield or even on your 26-man roster. So it significantly upgrades us. And the great thing about the crazy 8s, is one’s righthanded and one’s lefthanded and that creates a tougher lineup to navigate.”

Judge, not surprisingly, said he was “excited” having Soto aboard.

“We gave up quite a few pieces to get him, but he’s a generational talent.” Judge, appearing on Fox 5’s “Good Day New York,” said Thursday morning. “His track record, his stats speak for themselves. I think everybody in the Yankee universe is pretty excited to have him on board.”

Done with his outfield, Cashman said he very much is “in the market” for pitching and a chance to score another big free agent presents itself early next week, perhaps as soon as Monday, when the Yankees will meet with Japanese righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The 25-year-old, because of the intense interest of big-money teams like the Yankees, Mets and Dodgers, could command a contract exceeding $300 million, but this offseason has already shown owner Hal Steinbrenner isn’t shying away from bumping his payroll to the $300 million range, if not beyond.

“We still have more work to do, and we know that, but we are really excited by what this acquisition can do for both balance and impact and certainly excited by the opportunity to bring him here,” Cashman said of Soto. “And it’s another manifestation of the Steinbrenner legacy. I think George Steinbrenner always felt that the best players in the world should play for the New York Yankees . . . and obviously Hal Steinbrenner and [sisters] Jenny and Jessica have continued those efforts, and Juan Soto’s the latest example of that.”

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