Yankees Thoughts: This Is Juan Soto’s Team

The Yankees avoided a fourth straight loss and a sweep in Toronto with a ninth-inning comeback win over the Blue Jays to maintain their place atop the AL East.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. I don’t know what Juan Soto is going to get this winter, all I know is the Yankees better be the ones to give it to him. Whether it’s $500 million or $600 million or $700 million, whatever the price tag is, the Yankees need to meet it. Give him $1 billion. Give him an ownership stake. I don’t care what it takes, the Yankees have to pay it. If the organization that generates more revenue than any other in the sport isn’t going to sign 25-year-old Soto (who amazingly may not even be in his prime yet), then who will they sign?

2. The Yankees have to sign Soto because he is the Yankees. It’s disturbing to think what the Yankees’ record through 19 games would be without him, and the 13-6 record they do have is largely based on his performance alone.

The 2024 Yankees are the 2023 Yankees with Soto and a better offensive version of Anthony Volpe. Remove Soto from the equation and the Yankees would be battling the Red Sox for sole possession of the AL East basement. Remove Soto from the equation and the Yankees would have been swept in Toronto the last three days.

3. On Wednesday, in Soto’s first-inning plate appearance he walked. The “heart” of the order stranded him. He led off the third with a single and Judge erased him with yet another double play. With two outs in the fifth, he doubled in Oswaldo Cabrera for the Yankees’ first run before Judge stranded him again. In the eighth, he hit a solo home run off of Genesis Cabrera. With two outs in the ninth, he drew a walk against tough lefty Tim Mayza to extend the inning. Five plate appearances, three hits, two extra-base hits, two walks, one run and two RBIs.

Soto kept the Yankees alive and in the game to create their ninth-inning comeback and Blue Jays manager John Schneider did the rest, choosing not to use Jordan Romano or Yimi Garcia to close it out, allowing the Yankees to come back, win and salvage the third game of the series.

4. “We have confidence; grinding every day, playing 27 outs,” Soto said. “I have really good confidence in this team. We all know what kind of players awe have. I just every single one of them.”

(That’s nice of Soto to say, but there’s absolutely no truth to it. Do you think Soto feels good about Gleyber Torres coming up with the bases loaded? Do you think when he’s standing on second he believes Anthony Rizzo is going to drive him in? I know I don’t.)

5. Soto is the most important player on the team. He’s hitting .352/.478/.577 and has reached base safely in 17 of 19 games. He leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBIs and walks.

In the Yankees’ six losses this season, Soto is 4-for-19 with four strikeouts and two walks. Simply put: when Soto has a bad day, the Yankees lose. Or when Soto has a bad day, the 2024 Yankees look like the 2023 Yankees.

Unsurprisingly, in the Yankees’ six losses, Soto has driven in one run. And in the six losses, the Yankees have scored 13 total runs, being shut out twice.

This is Soto’s team and needs to be his team for the next decade-plus. Judge may be the captain, but these are the Juan Soto Yankees.

6. The Yankees have won 13 of 19 and are in first place because of Soto. Judge is hitting .183 and has banged into five double plays.Rizzo has a .620 OPS and has 18 strikeouts to six walks. Torres has yet to hit a home run shown and is slugging .236. Alex Verdugo is tied for the team lead in double plays with Judge and pretty much only hits ground balls to the right side of the field. The combination of Jose Trevino and Austin Wells hasn’t been good. Volpe was off to an incredible start before Yusei Kikuchi seemingly broke him with Volpe now reverting back to swinging at balls and abandoning his early-season plan at the plate. Giancarlo Stanton has chipped in with some big home runs in between swings in which he looks blindfolded.

And then there’s Oswaldo Cabrera, who has been impressive and has become a lineup necessity. (It’s comical to think 21 of his plate appearances this season went to Jon Berti.) Cabrera is hitting .309/.350/.545 with four doubles and 13 RBIs. He has driven in more runs than Rizzo (7), Torres (2 … embarrassing), Verdugo (5) and even Judge (11) in about 20 percent less plate appearances than each.

The offense has been mostly Soto, some Volpe and Cabrera, a little Stanton and little to nothing from everyone else.

7. The starting rotation has been much of the same, led by Marcus Stroman and then very little from everyone else. Stroman was strong again on Wednesday (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HR) at his former home stadium, and he needed to be after Luis Gil and Carlos Rodon combined to give the Yankees just nine innings the previous two days.

8. It was painful to watch Gil on Monday: 5 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 7 BB, 6 K. There’s nothing worse than watching a pitcher either wants to nibble and refuses to throw strikes or simply can’t throw strikes. Gil is the latter.

With seven walks in the start, Gil now has 14 in 14 innings this season. It’s almost as if giving a starting pitcher eight days off is detrimental to success.

“I don’t think it affected me,” Gil said of the time off. “It’s definitely extra time that you’re not used to, but you’re just trying to execute pitches.”

Gil said it didn’t affect him, and yet said it’s something he’s not used to. So of course it affected him. It would affect just about anyone, let alone someone who has made two major-league starts in two years.

If Gil is going to be part of the rotation, let him be part of the rotation. It doesn’t matter that he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery. There is absolutely no evidence that skipping starts, limiting innings or giving a set amount of days off to a pitcher prevents further injury, whether or not they are coming back from elbow surgery. Pitchers get hurt. That’s what they do. And a pitcher that throws as hard as Gil throws is likely to get hurt again no matter what unnecessary precautions are taken. If you want Gil to not tear his elbow throwing a baseball overhand at 100 mph then have him retire. But if you want him to throw a baseball overhand at 100 mph then let him throw a baseball overhand at 100 mph.

9. Rodon had his worst start of the season on Tuesday (4 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 K), inexplicably needing 101 pitches to get 12 outs.

“It was death by the foul ball tonight,” Boone said of Rodon. “They just kept spoiling pitches.”

That seems to be who Rodon is with his once-great fastball now incapable of missing bats (he has 18 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings this season). 

“He was in the strike zone,” Boone said, “and the stuff was really good.”

Three runs, nine baserunners and 101 pitches to get 12 outs, yet “the stuff was really good?” Never change, Boone. Never change.

10. If it feels like you watch the Yankees sweating through their new road gray jerseys every day it’s because you do. Only six of the team’s 19 games so far this season have been at home, but home is where they will be for seven straight games beginning on Friday. Three against the Rays and four against the A’s.

Friday also begins a stretch of 17 games in 17 days with the next day off on Monday, May 6. As I wrote earlier this week, the Yankees seem to have changed their approach with unnecessary ret and load management, really only giving Stanton days off to this point. We’ll see if that changes over the next two-and-a-half weeks.