Well, at the beginning of the offseason Brian Cashman said he wanted two more outfielders, and to add left-handed power to the lineup. If Alex Verdugo was the trailer, the Yankee GM now has the whole movie, adding superstar Juan Soto to the team in a deal that finally came together late Wednesday night.
The outfield is where you put your sluggers, and the Yankees historically have been no different. But in 2023 the outfield corps struggled, 25th in the league by fWAR and 23rd by wRC+, and even when Aaron Judge was in the lineup that usually meant just one above-average bat in the group. With the addition of the 25-year-old Soto, the Yankees now have the best outfield pairing in the league.
Soto got off to a slow start in 2023, with “just” a 114 wRC+ in April, and was near-unconscious the rest of the season. One of the ten best hitters in the game the rest of the way, the lefty mashed a 164 wRC+ and struck out less than he walked. He adds not just a world-class ceiling to the Yankee lineup, but a floor the team has struggled to establish in recent years.
In four straight seasons, he’s posted a higher walk rate than strikeout rate, and since his debut in 2018 is one of just two players — the other being Alex Bregman — to have a higher walk rate across all seasons. He has plus power, with a spray approach that will likely see him hit more gap to gap than simple porch shots, but it’s that ability to reach base that gives the Yankees a weapon they’ve been seeking maybe since Robinson Canó left.
Even in down stretches contact-wise, like immediately after being traded to the Padres in 2022, Soto’s discipline and knowledge of the strike zone nets him a .380 or better OBP. He suddenly becomes the best possible option to slot ahead of Judge in the batting order, and cut down on some of those all-too-frequent Judge solo bombs.
More to the point, this should signal to the Yankee faithful that the team is at least responding to fan desires. There’s no real point in adding Soto’s anticipated $32 million CBT hit just to stop now. The Yankees now sit at an estimated $275 million in Opening Day payroll, and if you’re going to go over the tax in the one year you have Soto you better really push your chips in.
The team’s already in talks with Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and there are other targets that would help the team on the market. Michael King, headlining the trade the other way, was being counted on as a major contributor to the rotation, and while the Yankees did deal from a position of strength they now have a hole that needs to be closed.
Soto plus one more big piece would be one of the biggest offseasons of the century, and while no one move can guarantee a World Series title, the Yankees’ odds with Judge and Soto in the corners of Yankee Stadium are much higher than they are without.