Yankees Thoughts: Juan Soto the Necessity

After years of shopping in the clearance aisle for position players to no success, the Yankees finally acted like the Yankees once again and acquired a generational talent.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. Last month when Hal Steinbrenner was staring into a laptop rather than publicly assessing the miserable 2023 season in person, nothing he said made me feel better about being a Yankees fan going into 2024. Unless Steinbrenner guaranteed he would stop at nothing to acquire Juan Soto, he wasn’t going to make me feel better about retaining his general manager and manager and his overall evaluation of his inherited franchise.

The Yankees acquired Soto on Wednesday night after days of negotiating, trading player names and finally reviewing the medicals of all of the arms the Yankees exchanged for the 25-year-old superstar. Today, I feel as good about being a Yankee fan as I have since the team won Game 5 of the 2022 ALDS over Cleveland. (That feeling lasted barely 24 hours with the Yankees losing Game 1 of he 2022 ALCS the following night. I expect this feeling to last longer.)

2. I have seen many Yankees fans who say they have been hard on ownership and Brian Cashman in recent seasons take a step back to applaud their work here. There will be no applause from me. This trade doesn’t erase last season. It doesn’t make up for the 2022 trade deadline disaster. It doesn’t negate not signing Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or Corey Seager when it would have only cost money — the Yankees’ greatest resource — to do so. Trading for Soto was necessary and it was the type of move the Yankees should always be willing to make. The trade for Soto is the Yankees as an organization doing their job, something they no longer often do. The Yankees doing their job every few seasons isn’t worthy of congratulatory praise.

3. This deal wasn’t a luxury move, the way it was when the Yankees acquired 28-year-old Alex Rodriguez in February 2004. This move was a necessity. The Yankees desperately needed a middle-of-the-order, superstar, left-handed bat to complement Aaron Judge, and paying whatever price San Diego demanded was going to be worth it. I have seen commentary suggest the Yankees overpaid for Soto or that the Padres somehow “won” a trade that isn’t even a day old. To me, the Yankees didn’t give up anything they couldn’t afford to lose, they acquired the best player in the deal, and it will take the Padres hitting a massive parlay with the arms they received to somehow come out on top from the deal after trading away a unique talent like Soto.

4. During the negotiating period, I came across real people who were worried the Yankees were overpaying for one guaranteed year of Soto by moving Michael King and Drew Thorpe. King was a great late-game, multi-inning reliever for the Yankees and showed exceptional promise as a starting pitcher over the final two months of this past season. He also blew up his arm when he fractured his elbow in July 2022 and the 104 2/3 innings he threw in 2023 represent the most innings he has thrown since 2018. Thorpe had a great season in the minor leagues, but again, it was the minor leagues and his success in High-A and Double-A is in no way indicative of his future success or potential success in the majors. Neither pitchers are good enough to prevent the Yankees from acquiring Soto, and thankfully they weren’t.

5. Soto isn’t a superstar, he’s a generational superstar. He’s a unicorn in terms of plate discipline in today’s game as he has more walks (640) than strikeouts (577) in his career, and only in his rookie season (when he was 19 years old) did he not outwalk his strikeout total (79 to 99). He has the fifth-highest OPS+ for any player with 3,000 plate appearance through his age-24 season with the only players above him being Ty Cobb, Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Fox.

6. Soto just turned 25 at the end of October and has already played six full seasons in the majors. What he accomplished through his first six years and his age-24 season is ridiculous: posted a .923 OPS as a 19-year-old, led the Nationals to a championship as a 20-year-old with a .949 regular-season OPS and 1.178 World Series OPS; won the batting title (.351 average) as a 21-year-old, recorded the first 145-walk season in 17 years (Barry Bonds) as a 22-year-old; drew another 135 walks and added a Home Run Derby crown as a 23-year-old; played in all 162 games with 132 walks and a .930 OPS as a 24-year-old.

7. To put into perspective just how young Soto is and how absurd it is that he has been in the league for six years already, here is Soto compared to the ages of other Yankees considered “kids” by the organization and fan base:

Estevan Florial: 26.0
Juan Soto: 25.1
Oswaldo Cabrera: 24.9
Austin Wells: 24.5
Anthony Volpe: 22.7

8. Once Jasson Dominguez returns in the summer, the Yankees have the ability to use this lineup:

DJ LeMahieu
Juan Soto
Aaron Judge
Jasson Dominguez
Gleyber Torres
Anthony Rizzo
Giancarlo Stanton
Austin Wells
Anthony Volpe

Here is a real lineup the Yankees used in September:

Estevan Florial
Aaron Judge
Gleyber Torres
Austin Wells
Anthony Volpe
Jake Bauers
Oswald Peraza
Oswaldo Cabrera
Everson Pereira

9. In the past, Soto has said he prefers to hit third. Whether he still feels that way and if it will be Judge then Soto or Soto then Judge in the Yankees lineup is now the team’s biggest offensive problem. For long stretches of last season, Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, Willie Calhoun, Harrison Bader and Jake Bauers took turns hitting second and third. The team has come a long way since late last night.

10. I don’t think the Yankees traded for Soto with the idea of taking one shot at ending the championship drought with him on the roster. I think they made this move with the idea they will do whatever it takes to extend him (unlikely with Scott Boras as his agent) or re-sign him. Ideally, the Yankees would pay him before the other 29 teams have a chance to, but if they aren’t able to (and I don’t think they will be able to with the way Boras operates) then at least they have a season together to lay the groundwork needed to keep him a Yankee for the rest of his career.

The Yankees have passed on too many mid-20s position players in recent years (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Corey Seager) with their decisions to pass immediately coming back to haunt them. The focus for the Yankees with Soto can’t just be for 2024.