The biggest domino yet has fallen at the MLB Winter Meetings.
While it is no the highly-anticipated announcement regarding where Shohei Ohtani will be playing baseball next year, it is still a dramatic move. The San Diego Padres have traded slugger Juan Soto to the New York Yankees.
Throughout the day Wednesday, reporting from the MLB Winter Meetings indicated that the deal was nearing completion. Then late in the night, word broke from Joel Sherman of the New York Post that the deal was done.
On the YES Network, Jack Curry broke down the players involved, which include four pitchers heading to San Diego: Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vasquez. Catcher Kyle Higashioka is also on his way to San Diego.
In addition to Soto, outfielder Trent Grisham is also headed to the Bronx:
The move was largely expected, given the position the Padres currently find themselves in. Not only does San Diego have a number of holes to fill on their roster — and as the trade terms indicate, pitching is at the top of that list — but the Padres enter this offseason in a rather precarious position.
The team needed to take out a short-term loan back in September to help cover payroll, according to The Athletic, a step which came in the wake of some big financial decisions by the organization. As noted in the piece from The Athletic, last offseason the Padres signed shortstop Xander Bogaerts to an 11-year, $280 million deal, but that was not the only big move. San Diego signed pitcher Yu Darvish a six-year, $108 million extension, and baseman Manny Machado to an 11-year, $350 million contract.
Back in January, the team signed Soto to a one-year deal worth $23 million. While that allowed the Padres to avoid arbitration — which could have seen his deal cost the team even more — he was set to become a free agent following this season.
Making this move allows San Diego to address other needs on their roster, while also helping get their financial house in order.
But what does this mean for both Soto, and the Yankees?
From New York’s perspective, the deal makes complete sense. The Yankees are coming off a down season, that saw them finish 82-80, and in fourth place in the AL East. That was their worst finish in the division since 1992, when George H.W. Bush was in the White House and seven teams — Toronto, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, and the Yankees — comprised the division.
The pressure is on in New York to turn things around immediately, and Soto is not just a huge addition, but he fills a glaring need: Left-handed power. Last season New York’s lineup was heavily reliant on right-handed power. The top-five home run hitters in New York a season ago — Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Volpe, and DJ LeMahieu — all hit from the right side of the dish. It is only when you get to Anthony Rizzo, who hit 12 home runs last season to rank sixth on the team, when you encounter a left-handed bat.
While the team added a lefty bat already this offseason, trading for Alex Verdugo earlier this week, he adds another 13 home runs to the lineup from last season.
Soto is a different story.
Adding Soto now forces opposing managers to have to play things a little differently in end-game situations. Instead of relying on right-handed pitchers in those situations, they might have to use a few more pitchers, and play matchups a bit more. That might not be a big difference in single-game situations, but over the course of a series — and in a potential seven-game playoff series — working the opposing pen as much as possible matters.
Plus, it is not like Soto struggles to hit lefties. Over his career he has posted a .266/.376/.460 slash line against left-handed pitchers, along with 43 home runs. That does lag behind his numbers against right-handed pitchers, but not dramatically.
Adding Soto also gives the Yankees a hitter that can finally make the most of the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. While Soto can hit for power to all fields, consider this. Here is his spray chart from the 2023 season, courtesy of Baseball Savant:
As you can see, 21 of his 35 home runs from last season came to either right- or right-center field.
Now, thanks to Baseball Savant’s handy “Illustrator” tool, let’s drop that spray chart from 2023 into Yankee Stadium:
Suddenly, a lot of those outs, and extra base hits, are home runs at Yankee Stadium.
Sure, not all of those will be hit at Yankee Stadium next year, but there is potential for Soto to put up huge numbers playing 81 games in those friendly confines. To that point, in just seven games at Yankee Stadium over his career — and only 28 plate appearances — he has four home runs.
For example, back in May of this year Soto homered to right at Yankee Stadium, sending this no-doubter deep into the bleachers:
Plus, from the player’s perspective, this is a chance to play on perhaps baseball’s biggest stage, just as he is entering the prime of his career. And in a ballpark that could be tailor-made for his swing.
Of course, there is the caveat that Soto still has one year remaining on his deal, but one would believe New York would make a push to sign him to an extension sooner rather than later.
The Yankees are under pressure to turn things around immediately, and Soto gives them a chance to fulfill that task. All while playing half his games in a park that could be perfect for his game.
Which makes it the perfect pairing of player, and team.