If it’s true that Shohei Ohtani is never going to end up in New York, then you have to hand it to the Yankees for scoring the next best player the winter market has to offer.
A day after the Yankees shared a rare trade with the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Alex Verdugo, none other than Juan Soto also came to The Bronx through the San Diego Padres blockbuster. Gold Glove-winning center fielder Trent Grisham will join him, as first confirmed by Joel Sherman on New York Post.
For the Yankees, the reported cost a large consisting of five players: right-handers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Randy Vásquez and Jhony Brito and catcher Kyle Higashioka.
After posting a 2.25 ERA in nine outings as a starter in 2023, King is slated for the middle of the Yankees’ rotation in 2024. Thorpe and Vásquez are rated by MLB.com as the No. 15 and No. 13 club prospects. Throw-ins aside, Brito and Higashioka are at least capable of handling big league roles.
But just in case someone laments what this could mean for the long-term future of the Yankees, let’s remember that this is Juan Soto we’re talking about.
Although he is only in control of the club through 2024 and is reportedly unlikely to sign an extension, he will go to the Yankees with three All-Star selections, a World Series ring (something that ‘y Yankee wins since 2009) and well-earned credentials as an elite. hitter.
Let’s also remember that these are the Yankees we’re talking about. More specifically, the Yankees are at a time when drastic action is needed after their worst season in three decades.
Soto Is Exactly What The Yankees Need
There are reasons the Yankees went for Verdugo, Grisham and especially Soto.
Despite the best efforts of reigning American League MVP Aaron Judge, their outfield has been awful this season. And while their offense was generally poor with a 4.15 earned run average and ranked fourth from the bottom in the MLB with a .304 on-base percentage, it was notably lacking in punch from the left side. Yankee left-handed hitters have a .298 OBP with 47 home runs.
The last time the Yankees got some long balls from lefty hitters was in 1975, when they got just 43. Even a year later, their last resort was signing Reggie Jackson.
The trade of Soto? Same vibes.
That he will rake in 2024 hardly needs further explanation. Along with Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, Soto is one of only six players to post a .400 OBP and 160 home runs in his age-24 season.
His .410 OBP from this year alone would have been a huge help to the Yankees, which is how he broke up the overall consistency of their lineup. He had more walks (132) than strikeouts (129), while no Yankee regular had a walk-to-strikeout ratio above 0.7. Theirs is a bad version of a three-point true offense.
Even after hitting a career-high 35 home runs, Soto was also considered more powerful as a Yankee. He’s not a pull-power guy by nature, but his 1.219 OPS and four home runs in seven games at Yankee Stadium certainly indicate he’s always taking advantage of his lefty-friendly dimensions.
“Anytime you have a 1.200 or 1.300 OPS anywhere, you’re going to enjoy it,” agent Scott Boras said of his client and Yankee Stadium, according to Bryan Hoch on MLB.com. “And the good thing for Juan Soto is that he did that in a lot of ballparks, but Yankee Stadium was one of them, if my memory serves me right.”
If anyone wonders what Soto and Judge can do as a duo in 2024, there’s no need to play it safe. With good health, they could become just the fifth different pair of teammates to hit a .400 OBP and 40 home runs in the same season.
But Problems Still Remain
Ah, but while the Yankees are better now, are they good?
They need a lot of luck just to win 82 games this year. Early FanGraphs projections paint better things for 2024, with the Yankees ranking sixth in projected WAR even before the Soto trade, but the details of that projection are full of ifs.
For example, that projection results when Gleyber Torres is having a career year and when Anthony Volpe has raised his hitting to league average territory. This happens too when Carlos Rodón, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton have bounced back from lost seasons.
In those bets, Rizzo is a worthy pick as he hopes to overcome the concussion that derailed his strong start this year. Otherwise, Torres is different from who he is, basically there is nothing in Volpe’s profile that indicates more offense to come and Rodón and Stanton are easily injured in the 30-somethings even before the two did not miss the many hours at this time.
There is also a potential downside to Soto and Verdugo coming aboard as new starters, and that is that the Yankees now need Judge to man center field:
The Yankees have always played Judge in center in 2022, but even that feels like something will be lost. The 6’8″, 272-pounder is the biggest dude since Dave Winfield will play at least 70 games in center. He hasn’t slowed down since then, as he ages and adds another major blemish to his otherwise unblemished record.
The aura emanating from the Yankees says “It Has a Better Job.” And in this American League East, maybe not.
Granted, the Tampa Bay Rays will likely lose at least Tyler Glasnow, and maybe Randy Arozarena and Isaac Paredes as well. For their part, the Toronto Blue Jays are without Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier. Either way, the Baltimore Orioles and especially the Red Sox need to start pitching.
With the exception of the Red Sox, however, each of those clubs finished comfortably ahead of the Yankees in 2023. And even Boston is close to getting it, as it did not surrender fourth place to New York until middle of September.
This Won’t Be the Yankees’ Last Blockbuster
All of the above is to say that the Yankees need to do more to establish themselves as a contender for the AL East title in 2024, let alone the World Series.
It’s a good thing, then, that going full “Evil Empire” seems so possible. If the Soto trade is the turn of the key, turning the engine around could come in the form of a potential $300 million deal with Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, the Yankees will meet with the 25-year-old ace on Monday:
“The Yankees told people they were ahead of the pack with Yamamoto,” an executive told AL Bob Klapisch on NJ.com. “Father, forward.”
SNY’s Andy Martino teased about the Yankees being willing to exceed the $297 million so-called “Cohen Tax” in 2024 as it appears. That will be costly in terms of luxury tax penalties, but the only person who should be concerned about that is managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
For all the flack he’s gotten over the years, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Steinbrenner is more concerned about winning. Last winter, he OK’d a league leading spender. This winter, a trade for one of the best hitters in baseball…and still is.
The sense of urgency is appropriate. Even putting aside the club’s history as 27-time World Series champions, the Yankees are a team whose window of contention has previously been opened by just two men: Judge and Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole. The former will turn 32 on April 26. The latter just turned 33 in September.
A guy like Soto is needed to help Judge and Cole while their primes are still active. And as easy as getting hung up on his looming free agency, there’s no rule preventing the Yankees from re-signing him next winter if they can’t extend him first. And if there’s an inside track, it can be.
As it is, just having Soto for 2024 may be the bone the Yankees need to throw their increasingly impatient fanbase. Although there is more work, it is a sign that the organization is as sick as the fans of the championship counter stuck at 27.