Considering that Juan Soto is very much on the trade block with the increasing chance of him being dealt this offseason — despite Padres GM A.J. Preller’s smokescreen at the GM meetings earlier this month — there’s really only one reason a team should even think twice about trying to acquire the perennial MVP candidate.
Paying a steep price in young talent for a one-year rental is enough to spook most front offices, especially knowing that Soto, just 25 and represented by agent Scott Boras, could be angling for a $500 million payday come next November.
To the Yankees, however, that factor should be immaterial. And based on their dogged pursuit of Soto, as confirmed Wednesday by a person with knowledge of the situation, it’s a detail they don’t seem overly concerned with (SNY’s Andy Martino reported they’ve already been discussing names with the Padres).
Here’s why: All that matters for the Yankees, as we sit here four months from Opening Day, is the 2024 season — which is shaping up to be the greatest referendum on GM Brian Cashman’s administration since 2009. Leading up to that, the 89-win Yankees had missed the playoffs for the first time since the strike-killed ’94 season, but Cashman’s shock-and-awe response that winter swiftly produced championship No. 27.
Cashman attacked that offseason with a vengeance, shelling out huge money to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. It got him what he wanted — the Yankees’ fifth Commissioner’s Trophy in 14 seasons. No one could have imagined the title drought that followed. But Cashman again has arrived at a similar critical stage for the franchise, and a few weeks ago, chose to double down in the wake of this season’s self-proclaimed 82-win “disaster.”
There’s a lot more going on here than just Soto. It’s about restoring the Yankees’ tarnished brand, and Cashman putting his own reputation on the line with that profanity-laced tirade to reporters a few weeks back in Scottsdale, Arizona. You don’t place a bet like that without having some winning cards to play, and Soto figures to be in that hand.
Going back to Cashman’s hourlong sparring session with reporters, he was peppered with questions about the Yankees’ failure to acquire lefthanded pop for the Stadium’s short porch, as well the team’s uncharacteristic deficiencies in nearly every offensive category. The GM didn’t deny any of that. Those were facts, although they also were substantially impacted by the injury-related losses of both Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, among others.
“I think there’s important things that need to be done,” Cashman said at the GM meetings. “Hopefully we’ll be able to find a way to solve those [issues] and feel good about it.”
Rarely does an available player solve as many as Soto would for the Yankees, being a lefty-hitting on-base machine with a career .946 OPS. Getting regular target practice at the Bronx porch, batting in front of Judge, could catapult Soto to unforeseen levels, particularly during a walk year, when playing for his first shot at free agency.
And Soto, rental or not, is just too perfect a fit going into such a pivotal season for Cashman & Co. By now, they’ve learned their lesson from passing on Corey Seager, the MVP-caliber shortstop that hit the market at the exact moment the Yankees needed one — yet Cashman traded for Isiah Kiner-Falefa instead as part of that ill-fated Josh Donaldson deal with the Twins.
Seager was expensive, as Boras got him a 10-year, $325 million deal, but you won’t hear the Rangers complaining after he powered them to the franchise’s first World Series title in his second season with Texas. As for Soto, he could command close to $30 million in his last year of arbitration, but that’s not worth worrying about for Hal Steinbrenner, and neither is what the Yankees would likely fork over in prospect capital.
We’ll add one disclaimer to that last part, however. The Yankees need to be able to keep Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez off the table, the latter still recovering from Tommy John surgery that is expected to keep him out until June.
If the Padres potentially are seeking two top 100 prospects, as the New York Post’s Jon Heyman reported, the Yankees have others, like outfielder Spencer Jones and pitcher Drew Thorpe, or even the newly converted starter Michael King off the major-league roster.
If all goes according to Cashman’s winter blueprint, he should be able to spare someone like King from the penciled-in rotation, as the Yankees also have designs on acquiring Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto — and they appear to be the favorite as he begins his recruiting tour with major-league clubs.
With Yamamoto expected to reach $200 million in the hotly contested posting derby for his services, Steinbrenner apparently isn’t sweating the tab for the ’24 season, another indication that he’s acutely aware of how crucial next summer is for the franchise.
That’s why Soto has to be wearing pinstripes for this coming season. The Yankees have everything riding on 2024. They can worry about the future later.
Juan Soto's 162-game averages:
Home runs 33
Batting avg. .284