Yankees’ top trade target is ‘fully intending’ to hit free agency

MLB: San Diego Padres at New York Yankees
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have the most interest regarding Juan Soto, as the team is looking to load up on left-handed hitting and go for it in 2024. While part of the interest in Juan Soto is that he’s just 25 years old, allowing him to be a part of a team’s core for the long term, the Yankees might have to trade for Soto with the expectation that he’ll hit the free agent market after 2024. According to a report from Bob Klapisch of NJ.com that was seconded by Andy Martino of SNY, Juan Soto is “fully intending to be a free agent” after 2024.

While this could create uncertainty around making a big proposal for the superstar outfielder, it shouldn’t change the Yankees’ desire for the superstar

Yankees Likely Need to Bid For Juan Soto in Free Agency As Well

MLB: San Diego Padres at Chicago White Sox
Sep 29, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Juan Soto (22) catches a fly ball hit by Chicago White Sox designated hitter Eloy Jimenez during the fourth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals made an offer of $440 million to Juan Soto prior to trading him back in 2022, but that report can be a bit misleading. That extension would have voided the final two years of his deal in 2023 and 2024, and with his $33 million projected arbitration for 2024, he would have netted less money on the season had he taken the Nationals’ offer (~$29.3 million). If the Yankees want to entice Soto to an extension, they’ll need to make an offer that begins after the 2024 season, ensuring Soto makes his $33 million this year and continues to net record-breaking money beyond.

Scott Boras, the well-known agent for Juan Soto, isn’t one to accept extensions, as he prefers that his clients hit the free agent market, and for good reason. Say the Yankees were willing to make a $500 million offer, what could Boras get from other teams in free agency where there’s more pressure on New York to retain the superstar outfielder? Sure, one could argue that Juan Soto would like some certainty as to where he’ll play going forward, but that doesn’t come before the desire to make a ridiculous sum of money.

This wouldn’t be the first time that the Yankees have dealt with a superstar hitting the market, as Aaron Judge entered free agency following a monster 2022 season, where he almost went to the San Francisco Giants and received north of $400 million in an offer from the Padres. It’s clear that the uncertainty of Juan Soto’s future in New York would create unease around trading multiple top-100 prospects and MLB-ready talent to acquire him, but this might also play in the Yankees’ favor (for now).

MLB: General Manager's Meetings
Nov 7, 2023; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks to the media during the MLB General Manager’s Meetings at Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Barring the revelation that Juan Soto is willing to take an extension at a price the Yankees are willing to meet, Juan Soto’s value doesn’t include exclusive negotiating rights. Oftentimes the allure for trading for a star like Mookie Betts or Francisco Lindor is that the team acquiring said future Hall of Famer will have an opportunity to lock the player up before other teams can bid on him. If Soto is adamant that he won’t accept an extension, then it’s hard to imagine that the Padres can utilize that to get more value in a trade.

They’re clearly not going to be able to retain Juan Soto, and other teams know that San Diego needs to move him sooner rather than later because they’re too strapped for cash to make any meaningful acquisitions until they free that money up. Scott Boras doesn’t get the final say, the player does, but all reports would indicate that Juan Soto wants to hit the free agent market. The Yankees would certainly make a valiant effort, as they did for Aaron Judge, but that doesn’t guarantee an agreement.

Juan Soto is only entering his age-25 season, and if he lives up to his projections on FanGraphs (6.4 WAR), he’ll put himself in position to get a record-shattering contract, maybe even crossing the $500 million threshold. It remains to be seen if Shohei Ohtani will get there first this winter, but as of right now, it looks like acquiring Juan Soto would be purely a rental.