Will Juan Soto make the Bronx his permanent home after this season? Can the Yankees convince the 25-year-old hitting prodigy to take their $500 million next December to retire in pinstripes?
You can bet Brian Cashman doesn’t. Not right this minute. Not after the general manager just spent the past 4 1/2 months laying the groundwork to pry Soto from the suddenly cash-poor Padres and pair him Aaron Judge to power a Yankees’ lineup that sputtered through an unwatchable 82-win season.
Now? Cashman once again has created must-see TV (stay tuned on Yoshinobu Yamamoto) with an eye on returning to the World Series for the first time since 2009. Or at least ending the current one-year playoff drought.
But we’re not even going there yet. First, you have six months (or more) of watching the lefty-hitting Soto do damage at the Stadium (4 HRs, 1.219 OPS in seven career Bronx games). Plus, Soto played all 162 last season, making him a notable departure from Cashman’s bad habit of bringing in creaky, fading stars that either underperform or spend their lazy summer days lounging on the trainer’s table.
If Soto continues to post up at that rate, Judge stays healthy and the trio of DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo returns to some respectable degree of their former All-Star selves, this trade should deliver exactly what Cashman was imagining when he hung up the phone Wednesday night with his Padres counterpart A.J. Preller.
Fumigate the stink from the ’23 disaster, change the conversation, get back to October with a shot at No. 28. It’s not any more complicated than that. And worrying about where Soto might be playing after this season is wasted energy.. He’s part of the current push for a World Series title. Check back with Cashman once that’s over.
“The future is always now,” Cashman said Thursday during a Zoom call with reporters. “So ’24 is our focus and trying to become that last team standing once again, as we’ve done in years gone by.”
It’s been way too long. And those 14 years of snowballing futility is what ultimately led Cashman to Soto this winter, with his rental status key to pulling off this deal. Otherwise, putting together a package for a player this talented, at this young age, becomes a far trickier exercise for a longer term.
Instead, Cashman shipped a package of five pitchers — headlined by Michael King and No. 5 prospect Drew Thorpe — along with catcher Kyle Higashioka to San Diego for a one-year lease on Soto, at an estimated cost of roughly $33 million for his final arbitration season. That’s a hefty price across the board for a rental, but relative peanuts for the Yankees, who had the pitching depth and financial muscle (when Hal Steinbrenner chooses to flex it) to make the trade work without crippling the rest of their efforts to upgrade for the ’24 redemption tour.
“We understand that it’s a possible short-term situation,” Cashman said of Soto. “And I know he’s just going to make our team significantly better. But it’s not going to be just him. We’ve got to continue working at what else we can add to this roster.”
As for Soto’s price tag, it’s important to mention the two prominent names the Yankees didn’t have to surrender: their Gold Glove shortstop Anthony Volpe and prized (rehabbing) centerfielder Jasson Dominguez. Cashman said Thursday that Preller asked about the coveted youngsters early in the process, but obviously both were off the table, and the Padres shifted to shoring up their pitching needs as the talks progressed from the early November GM meetings in Scottsdale to this week’s MLB winter meetings in Nashville.
That’s not to say parting with such a big chunk of pitching talent didn’t sting for the Yankees. If King and Thorpe turn into front-line starters, and it’s one-and-done for Soto after an unsatisfying season in the Bronx, then this winds up being an ugly 'L' for Cashman. But there’s always a sizable risk when making high-profile trades of this stature. The Yankees’ all-consuming goal was to get Soto in their lineup, with the added bonus of a Scott Boras client being supremely motivated for his walk year.
Cashman fielded a number of questions Thursday about potentially checking in with Boras about an extension or what the Yankees maybe could do during this upcoming season to help Soto feel comfortable staying in the Bronx. Chances are, none of those efforts are likely to deter Soto from free agency anyway. Boras loves the open market and its “mystery teams,” knowing full well that’s the tried-and-true method to a record-breaking contract. If the Yankees still want Soto after this season, and he’s enjoyed his Bronx experience, then Steinbrenner is more than capable of ponying up the cash to keep him in pinstripes.
But that’s a discussion for down the road. Think more about that dynamic Soto-Judge lineup duo coming this summer, one that Cashman compared to the too-rarely-spotted Mike Trout-Shohei Ohtani combo with the Angels.
Soto’s been a Yankee for a little over 24 hours. Don’t sweat the next decade before he even takes a swing in the Bronx.