If you’re like me, you have spent the last several days obsessively checking Twitter in an ever more desperate hope to see a Ken Rosenthal, Jeff Passan, or Jack Curry tweet saying, “The Yankees and Padres have finalized a deal for star outfielder Juan Soto.” While obviously, the Yankees would still have a lot of work to do — additional pitching depth, an outfielder capable of playing center field, maybe a bullpen arm or two — acquiring the 25-year-old who ranks ninth in fWAR (28.4), fourth in wRC+ (154), and first in on-base percentage (.421) since he made his major league debut at the age of 19 would be the ideal start.
As you have been looking at these rumors fly, you probably noticed a player that the Padres are trying to attach to Soto to shed an additional $4.9 million, Trent Grisham. Because he isn’t your standard salary dump — he is in his second year of arbitration and won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2025 — it’s worth taking a look to see why the Yankees might want him included in a Soto deal ... or why the Padres might want to attach him to their star (perhaps for the recently-acquired Alex Verdugo).
Originally drafted with the 15th overall pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2015 draft, Grisham was traded to the San Diego Padres after a cup-of-coffee rookie campaign after the 2019 season. Starting at center field during the abbreviated 2020 season, Grisham put together a breakout season that made him look like a future centerpiece of the team: between his .251/.352/.456 slash line (good for a 122 wRC+) and his strong defense (7 Defensive Runs Saved, 7 Outs Above Average) that earned him his first career Gold Glove, he finished the season with 2.3 fWAR, tied for 15th most among qualified hitters.
Unfortunately, as was often the case that year, the small sample size provided by the shortened season led to lofty expectations that were not met. Grisham was solid but unspectacular in 2021, slashing .242/.327/.413, worth a 104 wRC+; despite playing more than twice as many games, he matched his 2020 fWAR total of 2.3. Furthermore, injuries weakened his defensive value, as he accumulated just 8 DRS and 5 OAA in twice as many innings.
While his defense rebounded in 2022 and 2023 to his Gold Glove levels, things only got worse at the plate. His .191/.300/.347 slash line across those two seasons was worth an 87 wRC+, which ranked 161st out of the 177 hitters with at least 800 plate appearances in that span. Thanks to his strong defense, which earned him a Gold Glove in 2022, he still managed to put up a respectable 3.9 fWAR, placing him at 100 out of those 177. While in terms of overall value, he compares favorably to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and DJ LeMahieu, his bat is a left-handed version of Giancarlo Stanton who walks more but hits for less power.
So why might the Yankees want him? The easy answer, of course, is his center field defense; even with his struggles at the plate, he’s been roughly a league average player thanks to his glove. Having this type of floor in center would allow the Yankees to bring Jasson Domínguez along slowly next year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. When you dive into the Statcast metrics, however, you’ll find some intriguing metrics among all the poor numbers:
Despite a low xBA and xSLG, Grisham had an above-average exit velocity and barrel percentage last year. Part of this is the result of a high strikeout rate, the perhaps inevitable result of a player who swung at very few pitches (his 41 swing percentage ranked 117 among 133 qualifying hitters in 2023) but struggled to do damage when he swung, allowing pitchers to challenge him in the strike zone. Part of this, however, is his 16.8 infield fly percentage: it’s hard to do damage when you’re popping it up to the second baseman 50 times. If the Yankees’ hitting staff think they can help him level out his swing and turn those pop ups to the infield into singles over the second baseman’s head, then he suddenly can become a very valuable bat at the bottom of the order.
Of course, this may be exactly why the Padres are trying to attach Grisham to Soto. If trading Grisham was truly just about dumping his salary, they would have non-tendered him weeks ago. With only a projected salary of $4.9 million and two years of team control, Grisham has value, and while I do not want to say that he has more value than Soto, he has value in ways that Soto does not. His inclusion in a deal turns the trade from a pure rental to a multiplayer acquisition, which strengthens San Diego’s demands.
Should the Yankees pay the added price and try to reel in Grisham alongside Soto? Personally, I’m not entirely sure it’s the best use of resources; there are free agent center fielders available who are strong defenders with a better bat than him. That said, his inclusion wouldn’t be a dealbreaker for me in a potential Soto deal either.
We’ll just have to continue refreshing Twitter and see what happens.