While it hasn't been finalized as of this writing, the various sportsbooks and essentially every national MLB expect the San Diego Padres to trade All-Star outfielder Juan Soto to the New York Yankees at some point Wednesday on the final day of baseball's Winter Meetings in Nashville. Reports indicate that the Bombers will send back a package headlined by right-hander Michael King and pitching prospect Drew Thorpe, along with at least a few other players.
The Yankees, who were 82-80 last season for their worst mark since 1995 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016, were +1300 sixth favorites to win the 2024 World Series and +700 third favorites for the AL pennant this morning at DraftKings. Now they are +800 third favorites for the Fall Classic behind the Dodgers (+700) and Braves (+700) and +400 leaders to win the Junior Circuit.
Left-handed power hitting was New York's biggest lineup hole last year once Anthony Rizzo suffered a concussion, and the 25-year-old Soto is one of the best lefty hitters in the Show. He slashed .275/.410/.519 with 35 homers, 109 RBI and a WAR of 5.6 this past season while playing all 162 game for the Padres, leading MLB in walks (132) and third in OBP (.410). Now Soto moves from playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park to Yankee Stadium, which famously plays well for lefty sluggers.
Soto's pairing with Judge should help energize an offense that was in the bottom third of the league in runs scored, in part due to the foot injury that kept Judge out for an extended spell. Having a second true impact hitter should remove some pressure from Judge and make opposing pitchers sweat more. Keep in mind that Tuesday, New York also added another lefty-hitting outfielder in Alex Verdugo. Judge would play center while Soto and Verdugo patrol the corners.
San Diego had been all-in to win the first World Series in franchise history and gave up a ton to get Soto from Washington in the summer of 2022 (and the Nationals definitely won that deal), but the Padres simply couldn't keep one of the highest payrolls in the majors. Soto is set to earn roughly $33 million in his final year of salary arbitration before free agency. No doubt the Yankees have had conversations with Soto's agent Scott Boras about a monster extension to keep the young star in the Bronx, but Boras almost always takes his players to the market.
The only immediate loss for 2024 for New York (based on what's been reported so far) is King, who blossomed from being a very good reliever to a very good starter in 2023, finishing with a 2.75 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 104.2 innings.
The simple solution to replace him? Sign the top pure pitcher on the free agent market (i.e. not Shohei Ohtani, who isn't going to either New York team regardless), 25-year-old Japanese righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Yankees are among the favorites to get him. Yamamoto is is expected to travel to the United States to meet with teams in the coming days. The Mets, considered the Yankees' biggest competition for his services, already met with him. Owner Steve Cohen reportedly flew to Japan to do so.
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