By Tim Britton, Grant Brisbee and Stephen J. Nesbitt
Yankees get: Juan Soto, OF, Trent Grisham, OF
Get Parents: Michael King, RHP; Drew Thorpe, RHP; Johnny Brito, RHP; Randy Vasquez, RHP; and Kyle Higashioka, C
Tim Britton: Every team would improve if they included Juan Soto. But perhaps no team needed Soto more than the Yankees.
This isn’t just for narrative reasons, though counteracting your worst season in three decades by adding one of the sport’s best hitters helps in that regard. But in 2023, only two teams saw worse production from their left-handed hitters than the Yankees. It perhaps follows that only one team has allowed fewer starts to lefties than New York. What’s bad for any team is especially bad for one playing in a stadium created to cater to left-handed sluggers.
The Yankees ranked 26th in the majors in OPS from their outfield, and that was despite the presence of Aaron Judge. Removing that from the calculation, New York outfielders will slash .214/.276/.360 for a .636 OPS. So yeah, even if it costs you a good pitching prospect and a promising big league arm, do what it takes to add Soto’s career .946 OPS to that group. Add in his otherworldly eye, the power that will appear in the Bronx and the versatility he brings to a lineup that has become serious in recent years. It’s Juan Soto.
For San Diego, part of trading for Soto when they did it was knowing that if things went bad, they could always try to recoup some of the prospect’s cost by moving him ahead of free agency. They got an NLCS appearance from the trade and some legitimate talent, but, well, things went south financially. It’s hard to view Soto trading as a positive thing.
Yankees Rank: TO
Parents’ rating: C
Grant Brisbee: Juan Soto is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Check him out, he’s on his way to becoming an inner circle Hall of Famer, up there with the greatest of the greats. If you want to dismiss this argument, remember that the guy just turned 25. Twenty-five years ollllllld. There are four players who are 25 years old or older The list of the top 100 prospects in MLB.
This isn’t just a curiosity, though. If you’re looking at someone who’s hitting free agency in the midst of a very, very special career, wouldn’t you want 10 months where you’re the only team in baseball who can talk to him about an extension? It’s not just about planting the seeds, but also about watering them and placing them under a halogen lamp. People will groan that the Yankees are giving up a lot of talent for a one-year rental, especially when it comes to major league production in 2024, but it’s not just that. It’s a test. See how welcoming Yankees fans are? See how the short porch on the right helps you perfectly? Wouldn’t you like to stay here for another 14 years?
My only quibble with the Yankees going all in for Soto is that it forces Aaron Judge into center field, which isn’t ideal for a big 30-year-old coming off a toe injury, but that’s really more Alex’s fault Verdugo. Juan Soto is on the Yankees. This is something to celebrate.
Juan Soto is not on the Padres. I understand why, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t depressing. They needed weapons to make up for the many losses they’re losing in free agency, and they need to cut salaries because it turns out they wasted a lot, and it wasn’t sustainable.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. They’re losing a guy who played 162 games for them last year and posted a .410 on-base percentage, .930 OPS and 158 OPS+. They need to replace pitchers, yes, but how do you replace him? They still have a lot of great players, but they were already below league average in terms of points scored per game. Losing 162 games of magic on base will be nearly impossible to recover from.
There is talent that comes back, let’s be clear. Michael King will help immediately. Drew Thorpe seems like a fast mover. Randy Vásquez had a brilliant ERA in the majors and a dusty FIP, and struggled with his control in the minors, but he should help at some point in the near future.
There’s a lot of hope for him to go the other direction, though, so he’s hard to like from the Padres’ perspective.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: The last left-handed (or switch) hitters with a .400 OBP in a full season for the Yankees are Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu. It’s been 16 years since any of them did this.
And the last Yankees lefties with a 140 OPS+ in a full season are Robinson Canó, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. It’s been a decade since any of them did this.
Soto has never had a season below .400 OBP or 140 OPS+. Not in the majors. Not in the minors. Probably not even as a corny kid in Santo Domingo! In today’s game, Soto is a first-class hitter. More gaze, more contact, more power. He has a World Series ring, a Home Run Derby trophy, a batting title, and yet he seems very proud when he spits on a ball an inch from the plate. His experience fits perfectly with the Yanks’ greatest need. Soto will spend 2024 spraying baseballs around Yankee Stadium and parking them on the short porch, joining forces with Judge to form a supreme one-two punch of power and patience.
Grisham doesn’t move the needle offensively, but he gives the Yankees a fourth outfielder who can play center while waiting for Jasson Dominguez to return.
The next question, of course, is whether one season will be all they have together. If so, the Yankees better make it count. Their first order of business is to strengthen the rest of the roster – starting with the rotation that just lost some depth in this trade – and then turn their attention to keeping Soto in the Bronx long-term.
For the Padres, the return is the return. That’s fine, if you’ve come to accept the position that the Padres need to move Soto and his projected $33 million salary sooner rather than later. But it doesn’t leave you speechless. Michael King has looked really good at times, and even better lately, but he’s also 28, two years removed from free agency, and has yet to carry a full starting workload in the majors. Thorpe, a 2022 second-rounder, is a promising prospect with significant upside as a starter. He’s coming off an outstanding season—a 2.52 ERA between High A and Double A—and was named MLB Pipeline’s Pitching Prospect of the Year. However, the Padres aren’t bringing in any must-win guys here. The only certain thing is that the boy goes the other way.
Before the trade, the Padres’ projected rotation for 2024 featured Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and then a steep decline. Between King, Thorpe, Brito and Vazquez they will stitch together the rotation for next season and strengthen things for the future. It could work great. But you generally won’t send out a Soto-sized bat and come out looking like a winner.
(Top photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)