By Paul Semendinger
December 9, 2023
THE YANKEES GOT JUAN SOTO! As I said on the Dr. Sem Yankees Show, I am surprised with some of the negative reactions from some.
People have complained that the Yankees gave up too much. I don't see it.
Michael King isn't young. He has never been a starter over a full season. People keep calling him a pitcher with 3 WAR (as he was last year), but most of his innings last year, as with every one of his big league seasons, came in the bullpen. The 3.2 WAR he earned was also a career high. It's not like he's been a 3 WAR pitcher for years - he did it once, at 28-years-old. He's not a young prospect. He's also on a dangerous trajectory after doubling his innings from 2022 last year and with the prospect of adding another 50-75 innings in 2024. The last time he had a workload like that was 2018 - in the minor leagues. I hope Michael King succeeds, but that innings workload is a disaster waiting to happen.
Drew Thorpe, the other headliner in the deal, has never pitched above Double-A. Sure, he might be great, but, at best, he's a year or two away - and with Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole quickly leaving early 30s, the Yankees don't have years to play with.
Another complaint is that Soto is signed for just one year. Okay. Who cares? The only season ahead of us is the coming one. 2025 and beyond can take care of themselves. And, if the Yankees succeed (or even if they don't) and they wish to keep Juan Soto, they will. When they're willing to spend, the Yankees can get or keep any player. I also believe the Yankees' best chance to keep Soto is now because he's already a Yankee and he's already been traded twice. Isn't is possible that Juan Soto would like to settle into a permanent baseball home?
The next big complaint is that Juan Soto doesn't solve all of the Yankees' problems. I read, often, "He doesn't guarantee a World Series." Of course he doesn't. No one does. Babe Ruth didn't. But, Juan Soto does solve a lot. A ton. According to Fangraphs, Juan Soto projects as the Yankees best offensive player in 2024. Yes, you read that correctly, he projects as being better than Aaron Judge. But, to the point, we all know the Yankees have holes to fill. Of course they do. But as they address their problems, they can't be criticized for addressing them one at a time. Of course there is more to do, but let's give them credit for working on and solving the problems as they come - and let's celebrate their successes. The Yankees now have a 25-year-old superstar.
The final complaint is that Soto is a bad fielder. Okay. Plenty of teams have won with bad fielders. Didn't eveyone complain about Derek Jeter's defense? Wasn't there the narrative that Bernie Williams was over-rated defensively? Paul O'Neill wasn't a good fielder. Neither was Reggie Jackson. Were Elston Howard or Yogi Berra gifted left fielders? On and on. Juan Soto's defense is so bad that... he has, already, been a starting player on a World Championship team. I'll take my chances with Soto in the outfield.
Soto has also done something NO current Yankee has done, he's played 150+ games for each of the past three seasons. There is great value in being on the field and contributing.
All that being said, the Yankees have more work to do. The following are the next areas to address (though not necessarily in this order, and when they do fix these areas, I'll celebrate the success rather than saying, "They still have more to do.") It seems, to me, this year (finally), unlike other years, that the Yankees are going for it.
1.) The Yankees need a starting pitcher. They need a big time starting pitcher. like everyone else, I'm hoping the Yankees sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto. If they lose out on him (i hope not), it seems Corbin Burnes of the Brewers is available in a trade and/or maybe Dylan Cease of the White Sox. Good pitching can be had.
Regarding Yamamoto, by getting Soto, the Yankees are showing they are serious about contending. That, immediayly, makes them an appealing team for him to come to. Maybe by addressing Soto first, the Yankees become the favorites to get Yamamoto.
(Of note, I also believe that as a number three starter, Carlos Rodon will shine. He has been an ace before. As the third best starter on the Yankees, he could be amazing.)
Wait! That was another big part of the Juan Soto deal - none of the Yankees' position player prosects were traded away. The Yankees still have some great players who can be traded. The Yankees acquired Juan Soto and kept all of their best position player prospects. That is amazing. It's actually quite impressive.
The Yankees also have a collection legitimate outfielders on the team. That is something they did not have in 2023. The Yankees actually have Major League outfielders - not displaced in fielders trying to play the outfield. With Trent Grisham and Alex Verdugo, the Yankees actually have some flexibility for a trade with either of them as well.
2.) I don't see this happening, but I'd love for the Yankees to solidify third base. I thought Jeimer Candelario might have been an option, but he signed with the Reds. My concern with third base is two-fold: I don't believe D.J. LeMahieu is an everyday player and I'm not convinced (because he's never done it) that Oswald Peraza can even play the position. Third base looks to be weak in 2024 unless the Yankees make a move.
3.) The bullpen needs to be addressed. This area, though, concerns we much less because the Yankees always seem to figure out the bullpen.
4.) One more (almost) superstar? Mike Whiteman first threw this out there, but I can see a scenario where if he isn't signed and is still out there in January, that Cody Bellinger bcomes willing to sign a shorter deal (four years?) to come to the Yankees, With Bellinger in center (and he'd then be Anthony Rizzo's replacement at first base in 2025), the Yankees would be tremendous. I never wanted Bellinger as The big star the Yankees acquired, but as a complementary piece, he'd be better than amazing.
The winter got exciting. Sure, there is more for the Yankes to do, but it seems they're in it to win it. And, in the end, that's what I have been hoping for for a long time.
Let's Go Yankees!
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