NASHVILLE — By Day 2 of the winter meetings, and nearly a month after his Yankees vs. the World tirade in Arizona, Brian Cashman’s public image had noticeably changed. The defensive posture was gone, and the general manager’s view had shifted from the rearview mirror to the road ahead.
This was no longer personal for the Yankees, a franchise under siege since the All-Star break. It was time for business.
And that’s when the Yankees are most dangerous. Once they turned their attention to Juan Soto last month, you could sense it was only a matter of time before the perennial MVP candidate would be fitted for pinstripes. Soto, a lefty-hitting on-base machine, was the perfect remedy for the Yankees’ offensive woes, and the one-year rental price in prospect capital made him feel more affordable in the short term (even due $30 million-plus in arbitration).
Late Wednesday night, as MLB’s winter meetings wrapped up at the Opryland Hotel, the Yankees and Padres finally made it official and completed the trade that now brings Soto and outfielder Trent Grisham to the Bronx for a pitching-rich package that includes Michael King, No. 5 prospect Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez and catcher Kyle Higashioka.
So count this as the Yankees’ first ‘W’ of the offseason, or maybe a doubleheader sweep if you include Tuesday night’s swap with the Red Sox for Alex Verdugo, another potent lefty bat for the outfield.
Cashman quickly got to work checking boxes this week, doing so with ruthless efficiency, and that’s before the Yankees are scheduled to meet with Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto on a recruiting visit next week. Should the Yankees land Yamamoto — we consider them the obvious favorite — this winter would be quite the coup for Cashman, who began his offseason tilting at windmills during the GM meetings in early November.
Cashman’s infamous rant made for great theater, but he acknowledged the Yankees ultimately would be judged by their actions in the months ahead, and they’ve made themselves a much better team almost overnight. Soto’s career .946 OPS is going to provide an instant boost after the Yankees ranked 24th (.701) in that category last season, mostly due to the extended absences of both Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, along with the malfunctioning DJ LeMahieu.
Juan Soto's career stats
Plate appearances: 3,375
Home runs: 160
Stolen bases: 50
On-base percentage: .421
Slugging percentage: .524
“He’s a transformational bat,” Cashman said of Soto. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game. So he’s impact — period.”
Soto was down to his last hours as a Padre when Cashman spoke those words, which is probably why the GM wasn’t reluctant to gush about his pending No. 3 hitter, the guy soon to be strategically placed behind Judge. Pairing Soto’s .421 on-base percentage — 132 walks last season! — with Judge’s relentless power is an easy fix for the Yankees’ 4.15 runs per game of a year ago (No. 25 overall).
“He’s as good an offensive player as there is,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s a machine — on-base, power, has accomplished a ton already at a young age. Durable. Has been a central figure on a world championship team.”
Again, listening to the Yankees fawn over Soto — well before the trade was finalized — showed how confident they felt about eventually getting him to the Bronx. Soto clearly was the name at the top of their offseason wish list, so Cashman wasn’t hesitant to pony up the pitching talent necessary to push this deal across the finish line. It took some finessing of course, but Cashman & Co. eventually bending on King indicated their urgency to put Soto in the 2024 lineup.
That’s got to be the focus here. The Yankees can’t be sweating the one-year rental concept, of whether they’ll come up with $500 million next December to make Soto a Yankee for life. Their No. 1 priority is wiping away the stain of the ’23 losing narrative, the one Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner have been trying to spin since the Yankees were sent home for October.
Phase 1 of that project was completed by the end of the winter meetings, with Verdugo officially in the fold and Soto not far behind. Those two are instant offensive upgrades. And the added bonus for Cashman was nobody peppering him with questions about his analytics department.
It was assistant GM Michael Fishman who took the bullets for that on Day 1 of the winter meetings while Cashman was upstairs in the team suite working to finalize the deals for Verdugo and Soto. This was the Yankees at their December best, aggressively swiping one of the biggest stars available as the rest of the league waited for the market to get unstuck by the long-awaited decisions from Yamamoto and Shohei Ohtani.
Yamamoto will be the test to see how far Hal is prepared to take this. Most teams would sit on Soto, declare victory and work the margins for the remainder of the winter. But that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Even laying out another $300 million seems like a reasonable price to pay for the Yankees to be respected like the Yankees again. It’s got to feel pretty good for them so far.