By Tim Britton, Grant Brisbee and Stephen J. Nesbitt
Yankees get: Juan Soto, OF, Trent Grisham, OF
Padres get: Michael King, RHP; Drew Thorpe, RHP; Jhony Brito, RHP; Randy Vásquez, RHP; and Kyle Higashioka, C
Tim Britton: Every team would get better if it added Juan Soto. But maybe no team needed Soto more than the Yankees.
That’s not just for narrative reasons — though countering your worst season in three decades by adding one of the sport’s finest hitters does help 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 handed fewer plate appearances to lefties than New York. What’s bad for any team is especially egregious for one that plays in a ballpark crafted to cater to southpaw sluggers.
The Yankees ranked 26th in the majors in OPS from their outfield, and that’s despite the presence of Aaron Judge. Remove him from the calculation, and New York’s outfielders slashed .214/.276/.360 for a .636 OPS. So yes, even if it costs you a good pitching prospect and a promising big-league arm, you do what it takes to add Soto’s career .946 OPS to that group. You add his otherworldly eye, power that will play up in the Bronx and the versatility he brings to a lineup that had grown staid over the last several years. It’s Juan Soto.
For San Diego, part of trading for Soto when they did was knowing, if things went south, they could always try to recoup some of the prospect cost by moving him ahead of free agency. They got an NLCS appearance out of the trade and some legit talent back, but, well, things have gone south financially. It’s hard to spin trading Soto as a positive.
Yankees grade: A
Padres grade: C
Grant Brisbee: Juan Soto is on a Hall of Fame path. Check that, he’s on a path to being an inner-circle Hall of Famer, in there with the greatest of the great. If you want to push back on that, remember that the dude just turned 25. Twenty-five years ollllllld. There are four players who are 25 or older on MLB’s top-100 prospect list.
This isn’t just a curiosity, though. If you’re looking at someone who is hitting free agency in the prime of a very, very special career, wouldn’t you want 10 months where you are the only team in baseball that can talk to him about an extension? That’s not just planting the seeds, but it’s watering them and putting them under a halogen lamp. People will groan because 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 trial run. See how welcoming Yankees fans are? See how perfectly the short porch in right helps you? Wouldn’t you like to hang out here for 14 more years?
My only quibble with the Yankees going all in for Soto is that it forces Aaron Judge to center field, which isn’t ideal for a large 30-something coming off a toe injury, but that’s more Alex Verdugo’s fault, really. Juan Soto is on the Yankees. That is something to celebrate.
Juan Soto is not on the Padres. I get why, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t depressing. They needed arms to make up for the several that they’re losing in free agency, and they need to cut payroll because it turns out they’ve been on a spender bender, 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 put up a .410 on-base percentage, .930 OPS and 158 OPS+. They need to replace pitchers, yes, but how do you replace that? They still have a lot of great players, but they were already below the league average in runs scored per game. Losing 162 games of on-base wizardry is going to be nearly impossible to make up.
There is talent coming back, to be clear. Michael King will help immediately. Drew Thorpe looks like a fast mover. Randy Vásquez had a shiny ERA in the majors and a dusty FIP, and he struggled with his control in the minors, but he should help at some point in the near future.
There’s a lot of hope going the other way, though, so it’s a hard deal to love from the Padres’ perspective.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: The last left-handed (or switch) hitters with a .400 OBP across a full season for the Yankees are Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu. It’s been 16 years since any of them last did it.
And the last Yankees lefties with a 140 OPS+ across a full season are Robinson Canó, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. It’s been a decade since any of them last did it.
Soto has never had a sub-.400 OBP or 140 OPS+ season. Not in the majors. Not in the minors. Probably not as a sweet-swingin’ kid back in Santo Domingo, either! In today’s game, Soto is in a class of his own as a hitter. Plus eye, plus contact, plus power. He has a World Series ring, a Home Run Derby trophy, a batting title, yet he looks most proud when he’s spitting on a ball an inch off the plate. His expertise meshes beautifully 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 as they await the return of Jasson Dominguez.
The next question, of course, is whether one season is all they’ll get together. If that’s it, the Yankees had better make it count. Their first order of business is to strengthen the rest of the roster — starting with the rotation that just lost a bunch of depth in this trade — and then turn their attention toward whether they can keep Soto in the Bronx long-term.
For the Padres, the return is the return. It’s fine, if you’ve come to accept the position that the Padres must move Soto and his projected $33 million salary sooner than later. But it’s not bowling you over. Michael King has looked really good at times, and even better lately, but he’s also 28, two years from free agency, and he’s yet to carry a full starter’s 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. Still, the Padres aren’t bringing in any can’t-miss guys here. The only sure thing here is the guy going the other way.
Before the trade, the Padres’ projected 2024 rotation featured Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and then a steep drop-off. Between King, Thorpe, Brito and Vazquez they’ll patch up the back of their rotation for next season and fortify things for the future. That could work out great. But generally you’re not going to ship out a Soto-sized bat and come away looking like a winner.
(Top photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)