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Yankees potential trade target: Juan Soto

Juan Soto could be a perfect add for Yankees at the trade deadline ... if he’s available.

Los Angeles Angels v San Diego Padres Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

The San Diego Padres are in turmoil and the trade deadline is approaching quickly. With this knowledge and a 43-47 record that ranks fourth in the National League West (only ahead of the cellar-dwelling Colorado Rockies), the potential for a big trade to shake things up is about as high as it can be. Should trigger-happy president A.J. Preller decide to pull the plug and start dealing, the Padres have plenty of pieces who could entice teams into doing business — especially ones like the New York Yankees.

Every baseball fan knows what kind of player Juan Soto is. To quote from the movie Moneyball, “He gets on base.”

Despite a slow start to the season, Soto is one of the few high-profile Padres who has managed to turn things around. In 90 games, the 24-year-old outfielder is slashing .265/.419/.479 with a 148 wRC+. He’s also on pace for close to 6.0 fWAR over a full season, currently sitting at 3.3. That mark would be the second-highest of his career and the highest since his stellar 22-year-old season, where he racked up 7.0 fWAR and finished runner-up to former Nationals teammate Bryce Harper for the 2021 NL MVP. Even Derek Jeter is dreaming on Soto in pinstripes.

Soto sits tied for 11th in all of MLB with two Texas Rangers players, Marcus Semien and Jonah Heim, and it’s not exactly difficult to notice that he has a lefty power swing perfect for the Bronx.

Soto, unsurprisingly, is also leading MLB in walk rate at 21 percent, well above second-place Ryan Noda at 18.3 percent. If Soto kept his current rate, it would be the second-highest of his career.

Strikeouts have been a bit of a problem for Soto in 2023. For the last three seasons, he hasn’t held a strikeout rate over 14.5 percent. This season though, it’s jumped back up to where it was when he was 19 and 20 and fanning around 20 percent of the time (albeit while still starring enough to lead the Nationals to their first World Series title). Soto also has an xwOBA under .400 for the first time in four seasons.

All of those hitting numbers could certainly change in the next half of the season, and even though some of his rates are higher than what people may like to see, he’s still 48 percent better than the average, which is pretty impressive.

The one aspect of Soto’s overall game that hasn’t really worked itself out since he came into the major leagues has been his defense. He has had a couple of years where it hasn’t been an issue, namely 2019, where he registered a 7 OAA according to Baseball Savant. For context, he had just as good of a defensive season as Aaron Judge per that specific metric. We know that Soto can be a good defensive player, but more than anything, it’s about whether or not he can consistently shine with his glovework.

With the positional hole in left field being filled by placeholders for now, it doesn’t feel like there is a better time to make a deal for the young superstar. The offense isn’t the same without Judge, and that’s evident through the kind of results the team gets when he’s hurt. But if you plug Soto into this Yankees team, another extremely effective left-handed bat that can work pitchers down to their bones, that instantly makes them far more threatening.

Of course, it isn’t going to be as easy as snapping my fingers to put Soto in pinstripes. He’s under team control for the next year and a half, and any Soto package would cost general manager Brian Cashman some serious trade chips. Teams with superior young talent could outbid the Yankees, and again, it’s not even clear that Soto would be available should San Diego start selling. They’ll still be in win-now mode in 2024, and Preller has every reason to want to keep a star as talented as Soto for a potential run next year, so it’s more likely than not that he’ll stay put.

However, if Cashman is serious about wanting to change the direction of this Yankees team and get them back on track, what’s better than making a massive deadline deal for someone so proven, charismatic, and talented, and who radiates a love for the game? The GM needs to at least be filling up Preller’s inbox to pique his interest.