Yankees finally get their left-handed monster in Juan Soto

MLB insider Jon Morosi discusses the latest on superstar Shohei Ohtani's free agency saga, including how the Yankees' acquisition of Juan Soto changes the game for the Toronto Blue Jays as they try to acquire the winter's top free agent.

TORONTO — It had been rumoured for months that the San Diego Padres were going to deal Juan Soto. Those rumours picked up immense steam over the past week and, on Wednesday, the boom finally happened when the outfielder was traded to the New York Yankees.

Soto is a generational hitter who completely changes the complexion of the Bronx Bombers. This represents the biggest move thus far of MLB’s off-season and should prove to be a major domino that paves the way for other transactions across the league.

Here’s a closer look at the deal and what it means.

The deal: San Diego Padres trade outfielders Soto and Trent Grisham to New York Yankees for right-handers Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez and Drew Thorpe and catcher Kyle Higashioka.

The runners-up: The Yankees emerged as the clear favourite to land Soto over the past few days. It didn’t appear that other clubs were in the running late into that process, however several teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays, had been linked in trade talks for the slugger.

The player: We could pen an entire book covering Soto’s accomplishments and accolades. He’s won a batting title, a World Series, is a three-time all-star and four-time Silver Slugger. Simply put, he’s one of the best hitters in the game and, at 25 years old, could just be entering the prime of his career. Since breaking into the majors in 2018, Soto’s wRC-plus of 154 trails only three hitters: Yordan Alvarez (166), Aaron Judge (166) — his new teammate — and Mike Trout (172).

Soto enjoyed an excellent 2023 season, hitting .275/.410/.519 with 35 homers and an MLB-leading 132 walks. Just as impressive are his percentile rankings, which mostly sat among the very best in the league last season. All of that is significant because Soto endured a down year — by his standards — in 2022, a season that saw him traded from Washington to San Diego.

Among the main narratives surrounding Soto in 2024 will be his impending free agency. Unless he’s signed to an extension by the Yankees, Soto, who is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, will hit the market as one of the best free-agent hitters ever. His performance will bear watching as it could further bolster his case for a monster contract.

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The fit: The Yankees have pined for a left-handed hitter of Soto’s ilk for many years. The club should have been in on Bryce Harper during his free agency after the 2018 season and one could view the acquisition of Soto as a chance for a do-over for general manager Brian Cashman. 

Soto’s swing and batting profile look like a perfect match for Yankee Stadium and its short porch in right field. It could be a reasonable expectation for Soto to exceed the career-high 35 homers he clubbed last season. He’ll be paired in the outfield and batting order with Judge to create arguably the scariest offensive duo in baseball.

The Yankees desperately needed a move like this after a dismal offensive season where the club ranked 24th in baseball in OPS (.701) and 29th in batting average (.227). The team has long fielded a lineup that was strikeout prone and excessively right-handed. The addition of Soto, along with fellow outfielder Alex Verdugo, should offer a significant remedy to those issues.  

The next domino: The biggest domino of them all is Shohei Ohtani — though it’s fair to assume that the Soto trade has no bearing there. In terms of outfielders, Cody Bellinger’s market could pick up. As well, it’s worth noting the Yankees have been linked in recent days to Japanese starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto and could continue their off-season retooling by landing the right-hander.

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