What Should the Yankees Offer for Juan Soto?
by EJ Fagan
October 30, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
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I’m back! I haven’t written or podcasted much about the Yankees over the last two months. The end of the season was too much of a bummer. But we have some actual Yankees baseball news: the Yankees have talked with the Padres about Juan Soto.
Obviously, Juan Soto would make a great Yankee. He’s one of the best hitters in the game. He bats from the left side. The Yankees badly need an outfielder. He’s somehow still just 25 years old. He’ll be a free agent after the 2024 season and is going to get paid a lot of money.
The real question is not should the Yankees trade for Juan Soto, but rather: how much is too much to give up for him? I think there’s a good case to be made that Soto won’t, or at least shouldn’t, cost a king’s ransom.
Sizing up Soto
Juan Soto is a career .284/.421/.524 hitter. Here is his 2023 Statcast page:
Pretty darn elite. Soto does everything. He makes contact. He takes walks. He hits the ball hard. You couldn’t imagine a better hitter to bat in front of Aaron Judge.
He’s a bad defensive outfielder. Giancarlo Stanton-level bad. Ideally, Soto would probably be a designated hitter. That said, he hasn’t lost all of his speed yet. His sprint speed is way faster than Stanton, and in line with plenty of major league outfielders. Pair that with a strong arm and I don’t see any reason why Soto couldn’t be good enough in right field for the Yankees. Left field? Probably not.
Soto is also set to command a huge $33 million salary in arbitration, which is probably why the Padres are eager to trade him.
Valuing Soto in a Trade
Don’t get me wrong: Soto is really good. I want him on the Yankees. He solves so many of their problems. He’s a crafty hitter who would probably take full advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short porch. But I think he’s actually not all that valuable in a trade.
Not counting 2020, Soto has played four full seasons of baseball. During that time, he has been worth an average of 5.5 fWAR. That’s a lot! But compare his seasons to Aaron Judge:
2019: 5.7 fWAR, 150 games/4.3 fWAR, 102 games
2021: 7.0, 151 games/5.6 fWAR, 148 games
2022: 3.9, 153 games/11.6 fWAR, 157 games
2023: 5.5, 162 games/5.3 fWAR, 106 games
Judge is a far better player on a per-game basis because defense matters. Soto is such a huge negative contributor on defense that his ceiling is limited. He’s still super-young. Judge was 25 years old during his rookie season! He’s consistently stayed healthy. I suspect he has another gear to put up a truly elite season. But a typical Soto season isn’t winning any MVPs, despite his incredible hitting talent.
And then there’s the salary. Soto’s 2024 team is going to pay him $33 million. While that’s less than he would earn as a free agent, it’s not that much less. His surplus value is pretty low.
One wild card: any team that trades for Soto will get to negotiate a contract extension with him exclusively. That’s worth something, but probably less than you think. Soto is going to take a truly massive contract to sign long term. I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets paid upwards of $500 million.
My Best Trade Offers for Soto
Realistic trade offers are tough to construct. The Padres gave up some big name prospects for Soto a year and a half ago, but Soto was a different asset then. He’s now older and under team control for just one season and paid a lot more money.
A few similar players went for modest deadline deals. The Dodgers got Manny Machado in July for a bunch of B- prospects.
Maybe the best comparison that I can find is Nolan Arenado. The Cardinals gave up the following package for Arenado: Mateo Gil, Tony Locey, Jake Sommers, Austin Gomber and Elehuris Montero. Have you heard of most of these guys? Me neither. Austin Gomber was a solid young pitcher with MLB experience. Elehuris Montero was probably the best prospect in the trade, but was just the #81 prospect in baseball that year and injured.
The Yankee equivalent to this trade is probably something like this: Jhony Brito, Oswaldo Peraza, Antonio Gomez, Luis Serna, Brando Mayea.
I’m pretty sure that every single person reading this would go for that trade. But let’s be honest: the Rockies gave away Nolan Arenado for way too cheap. The Padres can get better for Soto, high price and all.
What about the Mookie Betts trade? Betts was way better than either Arenado or Soto, but had just one year left on his contract. The Red Sox got the following for Betts: Jeter Downs, Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong. The Dodgers also took on $96 million from David Price’s bad contract.
Downs was the #86 prospect in baseball. Verdugo was the #35 prospect. Connor Wong wasn’t ranked, but was coming off a very strong season in the mid-minors.
The Yankee equivalent to this deal? Something like Jasson Dominguez, Everson Pereira and Ben Rice, plus the Yankees taking on Yu Darvish’s contract.
That’s too much for me. But of course, Betts was way better than Soto. Betters put up an insane 10.4 fWAR in just 138 games in 2018, plus 6.4 fWAR in 2019. Betts was the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout. Soto is awesome, but not on the same level.
So let’s take things down a bit. Here is my version of the Betts trade for Soto:
Yankees Get: Juan Soto
Padres Get: Austin Wells, Spencer Jones, Clark Schmidt, Brando Mayea
I could imagine versions of this trade that give up a little more quantity, such as including two of the Brito/Vazquez/Warren/Gil/Thorpe/Beeter group, sub in some other talented low minors guys, or add someone like Oswaldo Cabrera or Everson Pereira instead of Wells. Either way, the Yankees give up a bunch of top young players not named Volpe or Dominguez. Mayea could hurt eventually, but he’s very far away.
But let’s get creative. I can’t help but look at Manny Machado’s backloaded contract and wonder if the Padres want to get out of it. Machado is coming off a down season, but would be a solid upgrade at 3rd for the Yankees, both on offense and defense. By taking on Machado, the Yankees get a deal on Soto:
Yankees get: Juan Soto, Manny Machado
Padres get: Jhony Brito, Everson Pereira, Antonio Gomez, Luis Serna
Would I do that trade? It’s sure a long commitment to Machado. But it’s not my money.