10:22pm: The deal is done. Both teams have announced the trade.
9:39pm: For the second time before his 26th birthday, Juan Soto is on the move. The Yankees and Padres have agreed to a blockbuster trade sending Soto and fellow outfielder Trent Grisham from San Diego to the Bronx, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Prior reports have indicated San Diego is likely to receive right-hander Michael King, top pitching prospect Drew Thorpe, right-handers Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, and catcher Kyle Higashioka.
Soto’s time in San Diego concludes after a season and a half. San Diego acquired the star slugger from the Nationals during the summer of 2022 in one of the biggest deadline blockbusters in history. He’d go on to appear in 214 games with the Friars, hitting .265/.405/.488. It wasn’t immediately the smoothest tenure, as Soto was hitting below his established lofty standards down the stretch in ’22 and early this past season. By May, he turned a corner and was back to performing at an elite level.
The three-time All-Star ultimately turned in a .275/.410/.519 line with 35 home runs while playing in all 162 games. He narrowly established a career mark in longballs despite the generally pitcher-friendly nature of Petco park. Soto’s generational plate discipline remained on full display. Among hitters with 400+ plate appearances, only new teammate Aaron Judge walked more frequently. Soto trailed just the respective league MVPs, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Shohei Ohtani, in on-base percentage. He was one of four hitters to walk more often than he struck out.
It’s what we’ve come to expect from Soto, who now owns a .284/.421/.524 slash over five and a half MLB seasons. He’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory and will immediately step into the middle of the New York batting order. He and Judge now comprise the game’s most fearsome corner outfield tandem. Along with Grisham and Alex Verdugo — acquired last night from the Red Sox — they’re part of an almost completely overhauled outfield in the Bronx.
The blockbuster trade is a firm win-now strike for the Yankees, the kind of headline-grabbing splash that’s reminiscent of the Bronx Bombers of old. It’s a bold push on the part of ownership and the front office after a fourth-place finish in the AL East.
In all likelihood, Soto is a one-year acquisition. He is in his final offseason of arbitration eligibility. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects him for a $33MM salary that would break the all-time record for an arb-eligible player. While the Yankees are likely to inquire with Soto’s representatives at the Boras Corporation about a possible long-term extension, it is widely expected he’s strictly a one-year rental. The three-time All-Star rejected a $440MM offer from the Nationals prior to his trade to San Diego. The price would surely only be higher now that Soto is a season and a half closer to the open market.
The chance to discuss extension figures with Soto’s camp isn’t entirely without value, yet it’s far less important than ensuring he’ll be a Yankee in 2024. He’s likely to step into left field. Manager Aaron Boone said this morning the Yankees were comfortable playing Judge in center field if necessary. That opens the possibility for playing Judge up the middle and Verdugo in right, although the inclusion of Grisham offers the freedom to keep the 2022 AL MVP in right.
In all likelihood, they’ll rotate Verdugo and Grisham into the mix liberally while getting Judge and Soto some designated hitter reps. Top center field prospect Jasson Domínguez could factor in at some point later in the year, while young left fielder Everson Pereira is likely to head back to Triple-A.
Grisham, who recently turned 27, played four seasons in San Diego. The Padres acquired him from the Brewers in a four-player trade after the 2019 campaign. Grisham had an excellent showing in the abbreviated 2020 season but has trended down offensively through the past few years. He was still a slightly better than average hitter in ’21 before falling below that in the last two seasons.
The left-handed hitter has run sub-Mendoza line batting averages in each of those campaigns. The Padres nevertheless stuck by him as their primary center fielder. Grisham has been patient enough to work a fair number of walks and reached double digits in homers for all four years in San Diego. His .191/.300/.347 line going back to the start of 2022 remains grisly, but the walks and serviceable power have been enough to make him a bottom-of-the-lineup regular.
Grisham is a plus defender in center field, annually receiving strong marks from Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average. DRS has rated him 25 runs above average in his nearly 4100 career innings; Statcast has Grisham 30 runs better than par. The glove was enough for the Padres to tender him an arbitration contract projected around $4.9MM. Grisham will go through that process once more before qualifying for free agency after the 2025 campaign.
Between Verdugo, Soto and Grisham, the New York front office has added a trio of left-handed bats within a little more than 24 hours. Early in the offseason, general manager Brian Cashman called it a priority to bring in two lefty-swinging outfielders. There may not be one in the majors better than Soto.
It comes at the cost of a good chunk of their upper level pitching depth and significant cash. The Padres went into the offseason broadcasting a need to cut spending. The Friars had emerged as a surprising behemoth in recent years. Late owner Peter Seidler signed off on repeated spending sprees that pushed the Friars into the realms of the game’s top spenders. President of baseball operations A.J. Preller has never been shy about pursuing star talent.
That evidently hasn’t been entirely sustainable over the long haul. With reports of a need to scale back payroll towards the $200MM range to become compliant with MLB’s debt service ratio, speculation about a Soto trade has been rampant throughout the winter. He’d been projected for the highest 2024 salary of anyone on the roster. Yet the short-term commitment made it easier to move Soto for a noteworthy return than it would have been to shed money from a lengthy deal (e.g. Jake Cronenworth, Xander Bogaerts or Fernando Tatis Jr.)
More to come.