Juan Soto to the New York? How the Yankees can pull off a blockbuster trade

Baseball: World Baseball Classic-Puerto Rico vs Dominican Republic
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Following the 2023 season, the Yankees have become ever-familiar with solemn weeks in October following an elimination. While this free agency class lacks the star power on offense to help the Yankees completely jumpstart their lineup, a possibility could present itself this offseason that’ll allow the Bronx Bombers to net a superstar. Fourth in wRC+ since debuting back in 2018, left-handed outfield superstar Juan Soto could become available for trade after the Padres had a disappointing 2023 season that’s left them in a tough financial situation.

Set to make north of $30 million in arbitration, the 24-year-old phenom is well on his way into the Hall of Fame, and every Yankee fan would tell you his bat is perfect for this lineup, but the question lies whether the Yankees can even make such a trade. Is their farm system good enough? Are the Yankees a desirable team to trade with?

How Do the Yankees and Padres Match Up in a Trade?

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Yankees
Aug 23, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman talks with the media before the game between the Yankees and the Washington Nationals at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Following a disappointing 82-80 campaign, it’s easy to be extremely negative not just about the Major League team but anything associated with the organization. That being said, there’s a stark contrast between their lack of MLB success this past season and the overwhelming amount of success they had across their Minor League affiliates. With the hiring of Sam Briend, the Yankees have brought brilliant mind after brilliant mind into the organization on the pitching side of the ball, and it seeps down from the excellence of Matt Blake to their MiLB teams as well.

Take Grayson Crawford, for example, who had his first year with the Somerset Patriots this past season and, in doing so, helped lead the best pitching staff not just in the Eastern League but in all of Double-A. With a 3.56 ERA, the gap between them and second place is greater than the gap between second place and seventh. They also finished 3rd in strikeouts, 5th in strikeout-to-walk rate, and first in WHIP, with names like Drew Thorpe, Chase Hampton, Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, and Richard Fitts all cycling into Double-A this season.

In Triple-A, they finished sixth in ERA, in High-A, they were the first, and in the Complex League, they were sixth as well. Pitching is their strength, and with the aforementioned Thorpe and Hampton being consensus top-100 prospects, the Yankees have the prospects capable of headlining a deal that the Padres would be interested in. San Diego could lose their three top starters in fWAR with Blake Snell an outright free agent and Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo likely opting out for even more money in the open market.

At the Major League level, Clarke Schmidt hasn’t become a frontline starter, but as a back-of-the-rotation option with upside and club control, the Padres could view him as a valuable low-cost piece that benefits from the friendlier confines of Petco Park. According to Baseball Savant’s Expected Home Run metric, the right-hander would have allowed four fewer long balls.

mlb: toronto blue jays at new york yankees, clarke schmidt
Sep 19, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Clarke Schmidt (36) reacts as he walks off the field after the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Schmidt alone isn’t enough for Juan Soto, and I think most fans would agree with that, but what about Chase Hampton? As mentioned earlier, the 22-year-old reached Double-A this past season, racking up 145 strikeouts in 106.2 innings, with a 3.63 ERA and 3.38 FIP. While he struggled to get things going in Double-A as he seemed to tire out as he neared a new career-high in innings, his stuff was undeniable, with solid velocity on his fastball, plenty of vertical life, and a cutter and sweeper that were also devastating.

In just his first season as a professional, he made it to Somerset and will have a chance to get fully conquer that level next season, as a consensus top-100 arm, he could impact the Padres’ rotation late in 2024 or early 2025. If San Diego wants an arm with high-upside that could help their team as soon as Opening Day, Will Warren would also be a perfect option for the Friars. The Yankees’ 8th Round Pick back in 2021 has been marvelous since being drafted, showing off a remarkable sweeper-sinker combination, and has really developed his four-seamer and changeup.

In 2023, Warren posted a 3.35 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, striking out 149 batters in 129 innings and really finding his stride with the high-scoring International League environment. Despite the league-average ERA sitting at 5.18, Warren finished the month of September with a 0.63 ERA and 22.7% K-BB%, lowering his ERA with the Scranton RailRiders to 3.61. He finished with the second-best ERA in that league for any pitcher with at least 90 innings pitched, trailing Allan Winans of the Atlanta Braves, who turned 28 years old during the season.

(I apologize to the Rumble Ponies)

He led all Triple-A pitchers with at least 1,000 pitches thrown in Stuff+ (124.5) and is clearly one of the most talented arms in all of Minor League Baseball. Concerns about how he’ll transition as a starter are still there, as spotty command still bugs him and lowers his ceiling, but he’s at the very least one of the nastiest relievers in the sport, and the potential is there under the right development for him to become a real force in any rotation. While arms like these could come back to haunt the Yankees, when we’re talking about Juan Soto, none of it truly hurts that bad.

Everson Pereira didn’t necessarily light it up in the big leagues, but after putting up big-time numbers as a 22-year-old in Double-A and Triple-A, he could be an outfield bat that the Padres are enticed by. His lightning-quick hands, alongside his raw power and athleticism, make him a prime candidate for a breakout 2024 season, although he seemed completely lost from a contact perspective. I still believe in the offensive profile, and it should also be noted that he played more games this season than he had at any point in his professional career, and that could have caused some exhaustion.

With Clarke Schmidt, Chase Hampton, Will Warren, and Everson Pereira, the Padres would be receiving two top-100 prospects, a top-150 prospect, and a backend young starter who could improve in 2024. The Yankees could throw in a final piece, but this would be the offer I’d put together for the 24-year-old superstar:

  • Chase Hampton RHP (#55 on Baseball America)
  • Everson Pereira OF (#77 on Baseball America)
  • Will Warren RHP
  • Clarke Schmidt RHP
  • Jack Neely RHP

To sweeten the pot, the Yankees could take on some salary, and I believe the best candidate for that would be Robert Suarez. Paying a reliever in this economy? It’s definitely a bad idea, and Suarez is an example of one of those poor outcomes, as the volatility of these types of arms makes them hard to project. That being said, Suarez posted a 122 Stuff+ and 3.23 xERA this past season, both better marks than his 2022 season, although his strikeout numbers and ERA mightily regressed.

He dealt with some injuries and looked a lot better in the second half, and maybe the Padres don’t move him for that very reason, but if they were willing, perhaps the Yankees could fine-tune Suarez’s pitch-mix and get him back to where he needs to be. Assuming the Yankees take on roughly $6 million of the $9.2 million per season that Suarez is owed for the next four years, the Padres would save $24 million, and the Yankees could fortify their already excellent bullpen.

That being said, the Yankees would have to do something they haven’t shown a willingness to do in recent memory, and that’s make consecutive long-term commitments.

Juan Soto Requires a Shift to An “All-In” Approach

MLB: New York Yankees-Aaron Judge press conference
Dec 21, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; Aaron Judge poses with Hal Steinbrenner during a press conference at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jessica Alcheh-USA TODAY Sports

When the Yankees signed Aaron Judge to his massive extension, it resembled a window to win a World Series and finally go “all-in.” They did make a large investment for Carlos Rodon, but that won’t be enough for this core. You have to go all-in, and that means that if you trade for Juan Soto, it has to come with the incredible financial investment to keep him long-term. Make him the next face of the Yankees, the one who will serve as the heir to Aaron Judge, as by the time his contract expires in eight years, Soto will be 32 years old.

Judge right now is 31, turning 32 in April, and Soto would likely still be tearing it up in the league by then. Signing Juan Soto to what would likely be a contract totaling north of $450 million seems crazy at first, but over the span of 12 or 13 years, the Luxury Tax hit on that salary will be a little more bearable, and he’d be a free agent once again before he’s even 40 years old. Soto has the type of offensive skillset that ages well, too, with incredible pitch recognition and incredible power without a frame that one would be overly concerned about.

The Giancarlo Stanton contract is a cautious tale for the Yankees, who know that at some point in his career, Aaron Judge will slow down and have his body erode the way Stanton’s did with his tall frame. There’s a reason the “injury-prone” label was a thing even after his healthy 2021 and 2022 campaigns, and while the Yankees can utilize the DH spot to keep the superstar on the field when he needs rest as Stanton begins to phase out of the everyday lineup, Soto serves as that direct predecessor for when the inevitable occurs.

Father time is, and forever will be, undefeated in the battle against age regression. The Yankees know this, we know this, and while developing a player of Judge’s caliber is hard for any franchise to do, when you’re granted an opportunity to trade for and then extend one, you absolutely jump on that possibility. Will Soto ever have the 200 wRC+ season that Judge had in 2022? Probably not, but if there’s anybody in baseball capable of doing it, he’s arguably its best candidate.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres, yankees, juan soto
Jun 23, 2023; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Juan Soto (22) tosses his bat after a walk during the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

According to Forbes, the Yankees are (unsurprisingly) the highest-valued franchise in all of Major League Baseball; it’s time for their spending habits to reflect this. Sure, they ran the second-highest payroll in baseball last year, but most of it came on shorter-term contracts to remain flexible and sustain success, what good is flexibility if that superstar-caliber, mid-20s, left-handed bat isn’t the player you invest it into? Missing out on Bryce Harper, a move made to “sustain” their success, can be reasonably argued as one of the biggest reasons they’ve failed to win it all.

Most will blame it on Brian Cashman, and that’s because of the now-infamous quote regarding the lack of fit, but if you think that Brian Cashman didn’t want Bryce Harper, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. The choice to sign or not to sign a player of that magnitude comes from the top, and that starts with Hal Steinbrenner. There are plenty of owners in the game who do not care, don’t spend, and don’t have any qualities that would suggest baseball is important to them, and while Hal is certainly no saint, he’s definitely in the top half of owners in this league.

Trade and extend Soto? You’ll have the fanbase back in droves, ready to pack the Stadium, and dare I say you win a World Series? The image of both the owner and organization will be re-contextualized for the next decade. If the Padres start fielding calls for Juan Soto, the Yankees immediately are one of the best suitors in the sport for the Padres. Pitching is their strong suit, and with Baseball America’s #11 farm system, they have the depth to get the job done.

In the Florida Complex League, the Yankees put together one of the best squads the CPX has ever seen, and that team’s on its way to Single-A to try to fly through the Yankees’ system. They’ll climb onto lists and look to replace the now-graduating or potentially traded prospects, and even if they were to trade for Soto, it wouldn’t spell doom for this farm system. It’s time to once again be the Yankees, and while that depends on the Padres being willing to move the left-handed slugger, the Yankees must not allow the opportunity to pass them once more if it becomes available.

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