Juan Soto should be Yankees’ No. 1 offseason target if he’s available in a trade

The New York Yankees: Reimagining the Offense with San Diego Padres Superstar Juan Soto

The 2024 season is fast approaching, and it’s no secret that the New York Yankees’ offense struggled in historic fashion this year. Yankees fans endured one of the worst offensive performances in recent memory, with the team ranking near the bottom in key statistics like batting average, on-base percentage, wRC+, and OPS when compared to previous seasons.

If the Yankees want to improve their outlook for the upcoming season, revamping the offense must be a top priority during the offseason. While internal development is essential, the addition of external reinforcements is equally crucial. In this regard, one potential addition stands out among the rest – San Diego Padres superstar Juan Soto. The Padres’ plan to reduce payroll by $50 million next season could make Soto, who is projected to earn $33 million in his final year of arbitration, a possible trade target.

Multiple sources within the Yankees’ organization have hinted at potential discussions regarding Soto’s availability, although talks have yet to commence. However, this doesn’t mean negotiations won’t happen in the future; they simply haven’t started yet. Several factors could contribute to this delay. On the Yankees’ side, the team is still formulating its offseason strategy, which involves evaluating payroll considerations. Meanwhile, the Padres are currently in the process of searching for a new manager.

However, internal discussions about the possibility of acquiring Soto are nothing new for the Yankees. They have closely monitored the Padres’ roster, specifically focusing on Soto and the team’s financial constraints, since before this year’s trade deadline. As the Padres faltered, the Yankees had one of their seasoned scouts analyze the San Diego roster. It comes as no surprise that Yankees officials hold Soto in high regard.

At just 25 years old, Soto has already established an impressive career. With a career OPS of .946 and an outstanding .421 on-base percentage over six seasons, Soto’s performance speaks for itself. He recently completed a 35-home run campaign while dealing with the challenges of playing in one of the least favorable ballparks for left-handed hitters in Major League Baseball, according to Baseball Savant. Soto’s ability to consistently drive balls to the pull side makes him an attractive option for any team in need of additional power. Moreover, pairing him with Aaron Judge in the lineup would potentially give the Yankees the strongest top of the order in the sport.

Soto will reach free agency after the 2024 season, and it seems unlikely that he, with Scott Boras as his agent, will agree to a contract extension before exploring the market. Judge recently signed a nine-year, $360 million contract beginning in his age-31 season. Soto, on the other hand, will be six years younger than Judge upon entering free agency, while displaying similar levels of production. Trading for Soto would indicate that Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is willing to spend whatever it takes to create a World Series contender. The trio of Soto, Judge, and Gerrit Cole would command an annual salary exceeding $100 million.

Considerations about Soto’s contract status and the uncertainty surrounding a potential extension could potentially reduce the price tag for acquiring him. The San Diego Padres experienced a similar situation when they initially traded for Soto last year, surrendering four of their top five prospects to the Washington Nationals.

The Yankees may find themselves in a comparable position to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox. In that trade, Boston received outfielder Alex Verdugo and two of the Dodgers’ top-15 prospects, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong, while also relieving themselves of David Price’s salary.

From a strategic standpoint, a trade between the Padres and the Yankees makes sense, given San Diego’s needs heading into the 2024 season: starting pitching and additional outfield depth. The Yankees’ organizational strength lies in their pitching depth, including potential trade assets like Clarke Schmidt, Michael King, Randy Vásquez, Jhony Brito, Drew Thorpe, Will Warren, and Clayton Beeter. While the Yankees would be wise to retain Chase Hampton, who finished the season in Double A and is widely regarded as the team’s top pitching prospect over Thorpe, other pitching prospects may be available. On the outfield front, the Yankees could potentially part ways with Everson Pereira, whose limited playing time this season was underwhelming, failing to replicate the power he displayed in Triple A. While trading Spencer Jones or Jasson Domínguez may appear costly, the pursuit of a proven superstar should leave no stone unturned.

One potential hurdle for the Yankees is the possibility of other teams offering the Padres superior trade packages. The Baltimore Orioles boast an abundance of young talent and could potentially overcome their unwillingness to spend heavily for a one-season rental of Soto at approximately $30 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers, in the event they fail to secure Shohei Ohtani’s services in free agency, possess numerous young arms that may pique the Padres’ interest. The Seattle Mariners also feature a few promising young starting pitchers that could entice the Padres as trade partners. Alternatively, the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers may be amenable to large spending and possess strong farm systems.

Another crucial factor in this potential trade is timing. The Padres have ambitions of contending in 2024, and trading away Soto this offseason would hinder their pursuit of that goal, particularly considering the potential return they would receive in a trade. Just one year ago, the Padres reached the National League Championship Series, only to miss out on the postseason this year after struggling in extra-inning games (2-12) and narrowly losing 23 one-run contests. With their existing core, there is reason to believe that the team’s fortunes could improve next season with better luck.

A source familiar with the situation revealed to The Athletic that a trade during the upcoming season’s trade deadline appears more plausible than one taking place this offseason, as the Padres would have a clearer understanding of their playoff chances and the likelihood of retaining Soto beyond his current contract. However, if the Padres were to part ways with Soto before the start of the 2024 season, the Yankees should spare no expense in acquiring this generational talent, solidifying their core alongside Judge and Cole.

(Top photo of Juan Soto: Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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