Remember the short time, a little more than a year ago, when it seemed like Aaron Judge might not return to the Yankees? Well, that wasn’t fun. Even the most optimistic of fans saw their faith shaken a bit, and it was only natural. The prospect of this team without Judge was a bleak one, to say the least. Furthermore, once a player reaches the market, there is only so much confidence a team can have about securing his services.
This current offseason didn’t deliver nearly the same amount of stress. Yes, the team had targets and big ones, but they were all outside acquisitions, prompting a different set of emotions. It’s still only February, and we have an entire season to go, but it’s always important to keep sight of the long-term picture. That presents unique challenges for Brian Cashman, particularly in the retention of some of the team’s best players.
Entering 2024, two of the Yankees’ best hitters are coming up on their walk years. Juan Soto and Gleyber Torres will, barring the most extreme of circumstances, both be free agents in less than a year’s time. Now, firstly, we need a disclaimer that this isn’t about putting Soto and Torres in the same category of player. This is a rather obvious statement, but one that should be made no less. Their future contracts and current status in the sport do more than enough to indicate their different tiers.
There’s a world where the Yankees offense steps back up and Torres is one of many bats running through a gauntlet of a lineup, but as recently as last year he was one of the team’s most crucial run producers. It’ll be difficult to keep his services if he maintains his level of performance, and much more difficult if the team is preoccupied by fending off suitors for Soto. With Judge, who clearly shared an emotional attachment with the team and was willing to maybe compromise a tad to stay in the Bronx, the Yankees already took it down to the final hour. We can only imagine a scenario that’ll be just as difficult with Soto.
It’s hard enough to be the top bidder for one impactful free agency, much less two in the same offseason. And there are even closer scenarios. Take Shohei Ohtani, for instance. The Giants offered him the same contract he got from the Dodgers, and yet he chose to make his home in Chavez Ravine. Did the Giants do something wrong or not try hard enough? Probably neither of those things.
Assessing the Yankees payroll outlook for 2025, they’re already at around $200 million in committed dollars, and that’s without arbitration-eligible players. That makes it a hard sell that they could entertain paying for both players if the bidding gets going, even if they’d like to, since they’ll both likely be receiving hefty raises over their current salary. It’ll take some external factors going in their favor to make this scenario become more likely.
The hope is that Soto enjoys his time in the Bronx enough to pick the Yankees over some other big market team, in case he gets matching offers. We just can’t know that for sure until it goes down. As for Torres, the Yankees have made their bed with handling his free agency this coming winter as opposed to having him locked down for the future through a contract extension.
As it stands, the Yankees already have a significant portion of their future payroll attached to just a few players — Judge, Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, and DJ LeMahieu account for $118 million just between the four of them, and they’ll all be under contract for a few years beyond 2025 as well. If the Yankees are successful in their efforts to lock up Juan Soto for the next decade-plus, it’ll likely mean a more moderate approach with Torres (and Alex Verdugo, who is in the same position with free agency on deck). Assuming this happens, there is not much of a reason to expect that someone else won’t offer him a better deal. It’s easy to point out Torres’ faults, but to focus too much on them would overlook how his talent is still perceived around the game.
With many question marks surrounding Anthony Volpe, LeMahieu not getting any younger, and no real top prospect that close to a debut at the position, replacing Torres at second base would prove a difficult challenge. We’ll see how the upcoming season plays out in making that financial tightrope any easier or more unlikely.