Until Shohei Ohtani puts ink to paper, the biggest news of the MLB offseason involves the Yankees. Late Wednesday night, both teams finally confirmed a trade that ended in Juan Soto and Trent Grisham donning the pinstripes and Michael King, Kyle Higashioka, Drew Thorpe, Randy Vásquez, and Jhony Brito headed to The Gaslamp. No matter how you slice it right now, the Yankees come out as winners of this trade because they’re getting the best player in the deal in Soto.
Even if they weren’t coming off an embarrassing season, Soto is the type of player that every team should be interested in acquiring. He’s a baseball superstar, one of the best pure hitters on the planet, on a Hall of Fame track, and only 25 years old. Folks are obsessed with winning trades and getting the best deal possible, but when the return is Soto, the team acquiring him is the default winner. Any package going for a player of his caliber is simply not enough.
As much as I love this trade and am excited for the return of relevant Yankees baseball, I am still a little sad. But trading for Juan Soto means it needs to sting a bit, and this one certainly fits the bill. We can celebrate the trade, but still should take an opportunity to appreciate the efforts that led there.
Anyone reading this who is even remotely familiar with my past work knows how much I love David Robertson. Part of my job description here at Pinstripe Alley is to annually write the Trade Deadline and free agent target posts for him, and yes, I wrote PSA’s Top 100 Yankees biography on him. It’s a dumb obsession, but I love the man. What people may not know about me is that I also have a fascination with relief pitchers. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but on my list of favorite players there are probably more relievers than any other position.
Obviously it starts with Mariano Rivera, but he’s literally the best to ever do it, so it’s probably not right to credit him with my love for the position. During the 2009 run to the World Series, Robertson delivered some clutch moments during the ALDS and ALCS, and I anointed him the next great Yankees reliever. I also had a brief love affair with the versatile Alfredo Aceves that season. I stand by my proclamation that Dellin Betances at his peak was one of the most unhittable pitchers the game has seen.
Sometimes, I just find a stupid reason to love a player, like when the Yankees signed Andrew Miller and refused to call him the closer even though that’s clearly what they were doing. Thus my love for “The Game Enderer” was born. And that’s where Michael King comes into play. Right before the 2021 season started, King said his goal that season was to pitch 100 innings for the Yankees, no matter if it was in the rotation or bullpen. It endeared him to me.
King only made it 63.1 innings that year due to a freak weight injury, but between his goal and his effectiveness, I found my new guy. 2022 was when he really broke out and other folks started to notice him, but again, he only managed 51 innings before a scary elbow fracture ended his season.
Then came 2023, when King — a random relief pitcher whose trade tree goes back to Tyler Webb (yes, the Yankees managed to turn Tyler Webb into Juan Soto) — was one of the few highlights of an otherwise miserable season. It looked like he was going to struggle to hit 100 innings this year as well until the Yankees simply didn’t have enough bodies to start games for them. So they stretched him out as a starter and boy, was he electric.
The peak was a two-start stretch against Toronto, where King went seven innings, allowed a run and struck out 13 batters and then followed that up with six shutout frames against the same Blue Jays squad in his very next outing.
Forget a bullpen role; King was looking at a rotation spot for 2024. Admittedly, I didn’t love that idea because again I’m oddly obsessed with relievers, but I loved that he broke out and proved me right. Those eight starts are also why the Padres were adamant about him being part of any deal for Soto.
King is a someone who any team should be reluctant to give up, even with his injury history, but when the return is Soto, you don’t think twice. You just do it. I hope King is able to stay healthy because he’s shown he certainly has the talent to stick around as long as elbow cooperates. Thanks for everything, my sweet King.
It’s probably a little hypocritical for me to write an appreciation and goodbye to Kyle Higashioka, considering how much I’ve complained about him, but the truth is none of that was his fault. There were times where he got too much playing time, but again, that’s not on him. His job as a player is to be ready whenever his name is called, and he did just that. The truth is that his bat (miraculous three-homer game notwithstanding) is not what you want from a starting catcher, but he calls as good a game as anyone. With catcher production down around the league, teams could do much worse than him.
Remarkably, Higashioka had been in the organization since 2008, and over the course of his 15-year run, he went from just another minor league catcher to someone forever etched in both Yankees history and MLB history writ large. He caught Corey Kluber’s no-hitter in 2021 and perhaps more famously was behind the plate this year for Domingo German’s perfect game.
Higgy has built a sterling reputation for being a great game caller and framer, and pitchers seem to love working with him. The pitchers (rightly) get most of the credit for no-hitters and perfectos, but catchers and the defense behind the pitcher all play a part in making history happen.
I’m sure this trade stings for Higgy more than anyone else. After spending a decade and a half in one organization, he now has to call somewhere else home. He’s only known one home as a professional, so the adjustment will hit hard. While he was never truly a threat with the bat, he still provided some fun moments on that side of the ball as well. The pitchers in San Diego will surely be happy with this aspect of the deal, however.
Jhony Brito & Randy Vásquez
Probably a bit unfair, but I’m going to loop both of them in here together since their stories are a little similar. Both signed with the Yankees as international free agents (Brito in 2015 and Vásquez in 2018) and both made their professional debuts for the organization with the Dominican Summer League Yankees. They both worked their way through the minors until the Yankees chose to add both to their 40-man roster ahead of the 2022 iteration of the Rule 5 draft.
While Brito and Vásquez were each added to the 40-man roster, neither were probably expected to make too much of an impact to the 2023 Yankees. During the offseason, the Yankees projected rotation was Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes, and Frankie Montas. Of those five, only Cole, who finally won the Cy Young this year, lived up to projections (yes, he exceeded them). But injuries ruined the seasons for almost everyone else in that projected rotation and Rodón, Severino, and even Cortes at times, dealt with ineffectiveness when they were able to start. That ultimately led to both Brito and Vásquez making their major league debuts this past year.
Highlighted by back-to-back wins to begin his MLB career back in early April, Brito pitched 90.1 innings for the team across 13 starts and 25 total appearances with a 4.28 ERA and 101 ERA+. Vásquez was a Platinum Status member of the Scranton Shuttle and thus only pitched 37.2 major league innings, but he pitched to an extremely impressive 2.87 ERA and 152 ERA+ over 11 games (starting five).
While Vásquez may have had the more impressive numbers, even in a smaller sample size, both of them showed an ability to pitch in the majors. While neither of them are probably long-term starters, both flashed potential enough that made them an intriguing option for San Diego to desire. After a dreadfully disappointing 2023, the Padres very much wanted MLB-caliber pitching and both Brito and Vásquez provide that, even if they ultimately end up as interesting bullpen contributors. Take it from me, there’s value in that.
Thorpe is probably the least-known name to casual Yankees fans in this package, but he might be the most intriguing for San Diego. Drafted in the second round of the 2022 draft, Thorpe started out 2023 in High-A Hudson Valley before finishing the season with Double-A Somerset. In just his first professional season, Thorpe went 14-2 in 23 starts with a 2.52 ERA and 182 strikeouts across 139.1 innings. He caught the eyes of many around the league, so much so that he was named MiLB’s Pitching Prospect of the Year.
If Thorpe continues on his projected path, he may end up being the “best” player traded away, but prospects are just that (ask Chance Adams and Deivi García). He may end up being a superstar pitcher, or he may not. Juan Soto is a superstar right now. With Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole in their primes, teams can’t think about the future. Now is what matters, and you give up on the future potential 12 times out of 10 when the reward on this level.
If you want to trade for a great player like Soto, you simply can’t be completely comfortable with what you’re giving up to get him. Yet, without a doubt, you’d repeat that trade in every single timeline given the opportunity. That’s what we have here with Soto. There’s a solid amount of potential, depth, and just general player likability in what the Yankees gave up to get Soto, but all we can do as fans is wish them the best and ask Padres fans to treat them well. Ultimately, though, the Yankees and us Yankees fans are the real “winners” of this trade, if you care about that sort of thing.