The Yankees' Juan Soto watches his RBI double during the...

The Yankees' Juan Soto watches his RBI double during the sixth inning of a game against the Padres on Sunday in San Diego. Credit: Gregory Bull

ANAHEIM, Calif. — During the winter meetings in Nashville, as Juan Soto inched closer and closer to becoming a Yankee, an executive with a rival American League team briefly paused while discussing it.

“Bottom line, you almost have to give up whatever [the Padres] want,” he said. “I see it like this: What are the chances any of the pieces [traded] turn out [to be] even close to the player you’re getting?”

The executive added: “Especially a guy that’s a perfect fit.”

Soto has been that and more for the Yankees, who pulled into the first (unofficial) benchmark of a Major League Baseball season (Memorial Day) with the second-best record in the major leagues. The Phillies are 38-17; the Yankees are 37-18.

The reasons are many: the shocking performance of the rotation even though Gerrit Cole has not thrown a single pitch; Anthony Volpe grabbing hold of the leadoff spot with DJ LeMahieu not having played at all; Aaron Judge’s historic May; Alex Verdugo playing the best leftfield by a Yankee since Brett Gardner in his prime; the parade of effective relievers trotting in almost nightly from the bullpen.

None of those elements — especially the efforts of the pitching staff overall — can be or should be diminished.

But it still comes back to Soto, who in the words of one AL coach “took what probably was going to be a dangerous lineup anyway to the next level.”

“On the bench, even when he’s not coming up [in an inning], it’s always kind of in the back of your mind when he’s coming up again,” the coach added. “It’s in the pitcher’s head, too.”

The numbers back all of it up. Soto entered Monday hitting .310 with 14 homers, a .408 on-base percentage and a .979 OPS.

But his impact has gone well beyond that. Starting early in spring training, young hitters such as Volpe and Oswaldo Cabrera began paying attention to Soto’s behind-the-scenes work in the cages. Judge, LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo took notice as well. Pitchers talk about the strike zone with Soto, known for having the best eye in the sport.

He’s passed the teammate test, too. Soto talks hitting with all who want to (meaning all of the Yankees’ hitters). And no one seems to celebrate a teammate’s in-game achievement more than he does.

Now, a word on the recent news dropped by Hal Steinbrenner to Jack Curry of the YES Network: that he and general manager Brian Cashman will talk extension with Soto’s agent, Scott Boras, in-season.

The significance affixed to it was, in general, wildly overplayed. The chances of Boras not taking what he calls “a generational player” into free agency are close to nil. Soto also still is a relatively young player; he won’t turn 26 until Oct. 25.

The very real possibility of the involvement of Steve Cohen’s wallet alone makes it difficult, if not impossible, to see a path to an in-season extension.

In short, everyone had roles to play, and all involved have played them well.

Steinbrenner — who despite overseeing the 2009 title and regularly having one of the top payrolls in the sport probably always will be viewed with skepticism by Yankees fans until at least the next title (or titles) — sent the appropriate message to those fans: Soto is a priority.

Boras gave the appropriate (and obvious) response: He’s happy to talk whenever and wherever. And Soto said how much he’s enjoyed being a Yankee and being in the city of New York and that, well, yes, of course he’s “open” to hearing what Steinbrenner has to say.

All parties will say the same things right up until the time Soto officially becomes a free agent. And the chips will fall where they may thereafter.

For now, fans should focus on what’s in front of them: that as of Memorial Day, they’re rooting for — according to a cross-section of scouts and evaluators — as complete a team as there is in baseball. A motivated superstar is playing up to his standards and has transformed the lineup. That, combined with a dominant pitching staff that is expected to get back the reigning AL Cy Young Award-winner in the coming weeks, has the Yankees sitting about where they thought they’d be.

One-third of the season down. Two-thirds to go.

More Yankees headlines

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME