Juan Soto is a New York Yankee. This feels good to say, particularly after Wednesday’s grueling when-is-it-happening saga surrounding the deal. But, despite the various delays, the trade was made official Wednesday night, and Juan Soto will be wearing pinstripes in 2024. Trent Grisham will make the trip with him, while the Yankees are sending Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez, and Kyle Higashioka in return to the Padres. It is a lot, but any move that adds one of the game’s most dominant hitters, is fair to consider a good one. With a player of his caliber, things are certainly shaken up for the Yankees, while the volume and upside with some of the return to San Diego does the same for them.
We will go with the easy part first. Juan Soto: very, very good. Across six seasons between the Nationals and Padres, the star has hit .284/.421/.524 with 148 doubles, 160 homers, a 154 wRC+, and 28.4 fWAR. He is a generationally great hitter, and he obviously provides an immediate boost to the middle of the Yankee lineup, one that very few could match.
For the Yankees, this completes their sudden new-look outfield, with Soto sliding into an everyday role, and Grisham figuring to work in as the fourth outfielder — likely to slot into the lineup whenever Giancarlo Stanton gets hurt and DH opens up. That unfortunate aspect must be built into the Yankees’ expectations at this point.
Soto and Grisham have only been in the fold for 24 hours at the time of writing this, but the outfield now figures to feature also newly-acquired Alex Verdugo in left, Judge up the middle, and Soto in right, with Grisham working in with his elite defense in center field. Defensively, the returns for Soto have been shaky, as two of his six seasons have graded quite well (88th percentile of better in OAA), while the rest have sat well below league average. Year-to-year defensive metrics are not the most reliable thing, but it’s certainly something to watch develop. Grisham, on the other hand, has been elite defensively since he came up, and will likely be of great help late in games or on a regular basis depending on how things shake out.
The lineup, however, is where the Yankees will see the biggest improvement. In 2023, the Yankees had a 94 wRC+ as a team, 19th in the Major Leagues, and certainly not nearly high enough for a team that wants to contend. In the outfield specifically, the number was about the same for the Yankees, but was buoyed almost entirely by Judge’s top-notch 458 plate appearances. Soto changes things radically. He has a 154 career wRC+, which would rank him 32nd all-time, comfortably slotted between Willie Mays and Frank Robinson.
Soto and Judge offer some welcome protection for one another, while his presence helps to combat an issue the Yankees have had in recent years: solid players miscast into the middle of the order. Gleyber Torres, for example, is a good hitter, but should he be batting third or fourth in the lineup of a top-tier contender? Probably not, and now he hopefully won’t have to, as Soto and Judge make for a fearsome one-two punch.
Grisham, at this point, is most noted for his excellent glovework in the outfield, but he has shown some promise at the plate in his career. Between 2020 and ‘21, the lefty had a 110 wRC+ over 779 plate appearances, and was in the top 20 position players by fWAR in the shortened 2020 season. He’s had two forgettable offensive years in a row, but it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see him return to that level at some point — particularly as a lefty bat in Yankee Stadium.
Now, the Yankee don’t get all of this for free. They gave up a bevy of pitching depth at both the Major and minor league levels. Michael King has been an excellent pitcher for a couple of years now, which included a 2.23 ERA last season as a starter and an even stronger finish down the stretch. Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez both demonstrated why they could be big-league pitching staff contributors in abbreviated stints in 2023. Drew Thorpe was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball and could slot into the Padres’ rotation before the 2024 season ends. San Diego also acquired Kyle Higashioka, a somewhat sad sight as someone who has been in the organization since Bobby Abreu was manning right field.
For the Dads, they add some much needed pitching depth, something the Yankees can afford to shed particularly at the minor league level, to help withstand the likely departure of NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell in free agency (not to mention relief ace Josh Hader). They added a sturdy backup catcher in Higgy as well in return for their superstar. Their outfield and lineup are now, or course, without Juan Soto, something that would be impossible to spin positively.
Whether this move will be a successful one on either side obviously remains to be seen, but as discussed elsewhere, it does feel like a move the Yankees had to make. While their stars are on the wrong side of 30, the top of their depth chart can compete with anyone at the present moment, especially with Soto’s arrival. The thought behind this deal is buying into the present moment, something teams too often shy away from. One player can only make so much of an impact, but it is Juan Soto after all, and his presence in the Opening Day lineup alongside Judge will be a much more welcome sight for Yankee fans than anything in 2023.