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What would acquiring Juan Soto mean for the Yankees?

Unless you have been off the grid the last few days you’ve likely already heard about the situation brewing in the nations capital. News leaked this weekend that the Washington Nationals will entertain offers for franchise player Juan Soto after he rejected a $440 million contract extension. Juan Soto is only 23 years old, a World Series champion, and amongst the best players in the game. He is on a short list of the best hitters of our generation. He is on pace to be voted into the Hall of Fame when he retires. A player like him being available is not something that happens frequently.

The Yankees are the best team in baseball. The Yankees need an outfielder. The Yankees have a long tradition of acquiring the best players in the game. The Yankees have several top prospects in their system. Because of those four things it is easy to understand why they were immediately connected to Soto upon the news coming out. But does acquiring Soto make sense for the Yankees? Let’s dive in.

Performance

We all know what Juan Soto is capable of. I am writing this section more so I can just baffle at some of this stuff. Soto made his debut as a 19 year old and has been raking ever since. In his four and a half seasons since that debut Juan has authored a .293/.427/.541 batting line with a 155 wRC+. Soto is coming off a second place finish in MVP voting in 2021, hitting .313/.465/.534 with a 163 wRC+ across 151 games, good for 7.0 fWAR.

In a league full of launch angles and strikeouts, Soto has walked more (18.9 BB%) than he has struck out (16.9 K%) in his career. He is also immune to the shift, spraying the ball all over the field:

If you watched Soto win the home run derby Monday you saw this in live action.  The ball was going everywhere. He is a unicorn of a hitter in todays game. This tells you everything you need to know:

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Credit: Baseball Savant

Doesn’t get much better than that. Soto is the best all-around hitter in the game. He hits for average, hits for power, hits the ball hard, doesn’t chase, doesn’t strike out, and walks at an elite rate. He’s as close to a perfect hitter as you can imagine.

When the bat is not in Soto’s hand is where there are some holes in his game. As you can see above, Juan ranks amongst the worst defenders in the game when it comes to OOA. He has played both left and right field in his career, but is exclusively a right fielder these days having not started in left since 2020. This season he has -8 OOA and -4 DRS in right. No matter which stat you prefer, they both agree Soto hasn’t been good in the field.

For a roster that has Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Joey Gallo (for now), all of which are best suited in right, it’s not a perfect fit. Ideally the Yankees could stick Soto in left and not have any concern. That is not the case. Judge has been manning center this year and that will likely continue regardless of what happens with Soto. But if Judge and Soto are going to be on the same roster long term (more on that later) there is somewhat of a square-pegs-in-circle-holes concern here. For 2022 though this is not a deal breaker. Soto is not going to kill the Yankees in the field. This is just to say theres some things to consider long term here.

Soto is also not a great baserunner. He has been worth -2.8 base running runs this year and hasn’t ranked positively in that statistic since his rookie season. His 26.1 ft/s sprint speed this year is in the 27th percentile in the league. Given the Yankees new found emphasis in this area perhaps theres some improvement the organization could help Soto with to grow this area of his game. Similar to the fielding situation this isn’t a deal breaker, but it is an area Juan should look to improve.

Contract

Now the fun part. Juan Soto is making $17.1 million this year in his first season of arbitration and is under team control for an additional two years beyond 2022. If you are trying to find a reason that trading him makes sense I guess you can argue that doing it now to maximize the return is somewhat valid. It’s not the next two years that is the concern to the team acquiring him. It’s what comes after that.

As I previously mentioned Soto rejected a 15-year, $440 million extension from the Nationals. While that total package would’ve topped Mike Trouts record $426.5 million extension, the AAV of $29.33 million would’ve ranked 20th highest in baseball. Surely Soto wants more per year. Max Scherzer holds the AAV record at $43.3 million though he is a bit of a special case given it is a three year deal. While $43 million per year isn’t entirely out of the question for Soto I am not sure he will reach that yearly over the course of a contract likely to be 12+ years.

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Let’s say he is aiming to top Trout, who makes $35.5 annually. We will split the middle between Scherzer and Trout for good measure. That puts us at $39.25 million annually. Here is what were looking at for extensions at that number:

12 years, $471 million
13 years, $510 million
14 years, $549.5 million
15 years, $588.75 million

Those are all crazy numbers! Entirely justified ones, but crazy nonetheless. They’re also ones that only a handful of teams in baseball can realistically absorb per year. Sign Juan Soto and you’re planning on him sucking up a huge chunk of your payroll from now until the Earth is borderline uninhabitable.

There is also an avenue where you address the extension later. Acquire Soto now, make three World Series runs, and worry about the money later. If you’re gutting the farm system for a player like this it doesn’t seem all that rational to risk reaching free agency and losing him for nothing. But banners fly forever they say, and if you snag a couple rings and avoid a potentially crippling contract it might be worth it.

All this to say there is a lot to consider here given the record trade package and the record contract that comes after. This is uncharted territory.

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What will it cost?

Easy. Let’s just look at previous times the best hitter in baseball is available at age 23 and form a comparable package! Checks notes. Oh. Yeah this doesn’t really happen. Again, uncharted territory.

The closest thing we have is Miguel Cabrera, who the Marlins traded to the Tigers for some God forsaken reason in 2007.  Cabrera at the time had two years left before free agency and was 24 years old. The package included two top 10 prospects in the game in outfielder Cameron Maybin and left handed pitcher/future Yankee Andrew Miller, and four other organizational top 20 prospects in Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Frankie de La Cruz, and Mike Rabelo. The Tigers also took on Dontrelle Willis in the trade, who was coming off a season where he posted a 5.17 ERA (5.13 FIP) and was making decent money in arbitration.

So let’s start there as a framework. This is the part I need you to read as many times as you need to in order to get the point across. If the Yankees are going to pursue Juan Soto seriously then Anthony Volpe is going to be in the deal. If Cashman is picking up the phone with intentions of ACTUALLY making the trade it means he has already agreed to that before the Nationals even pick up. Jasson Dominguez and Oswald Peraza is not a substitute for that. There is no deal without Volpe.

With Volpe as the top piece, the second piece would be either Dominguez or Peraza. Hell, it might take both. I would think the Yankees would prefer to add Jasson as the second piece and keep Peraza given their lack of a long term solution at shortstop. However given Peraza’s proximity to the majors the Nationals might prefer him over Dominguez. Again it might take all three, but for now let’s call it Volpe and Dominguez.

Now to fill in the rest. Ken Waldichuk and Hayden Wesneski are both in Triple-A and more or less ready to contribute to the big league club. If not this year then definitely next. The Nationals will likely want talent on the cusp of the majors and they get that with these guys. Let’s call this one Waldichuk given his theoretical higher upside.

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Austin Wells and Everson Pereira are the next tier of the Yankees top positional prospects and are in Double-A. Wells is likely the safer bet, while Pereira has more defensive value and probably higher overall upside. I would think of these two the Nationals would take choose Pereira so I will go there with my fake trade.

Beyond that the Yankees have some interesting arms they can offer to fill out the back end of the package. Luis Medina is out of options next year and has yet to harness his electric stuff enough to have a clear spot on the roster in 2023. For a rebuilding team like the Nationals he makes some sense as they can afford to be patient and see if he wrangles it in. I’d think the Yankees will push Medina hard at the deadline this year for this exact reason.

Luis Gil had Tommy John surgery and is likely out until 2024. That doesn’t help a team like the Yankees whose time to win is now. Like with Medina, the Nationals can afford to be patient. Will Warren is a sleeper here. He has broken out this year and is already in Double-A. He’s a guy that could be shooting up prospect boards when they’re updated at midseason.

Another piece to consider here is Roderick Arias. The 17 year old made his professional debut last month after getting a huge $4 million bonus from the Yankees in International Free Agency. He is several years away from the majors but is the Yankees prospect with the highest potential in the lower minors. I could see the Yankees pushing to include him in the deal as a way of preserving some of the upper minors depth while still getting a deal done.

One other wrinkle in this is the Nationals may push to unload either Patrick Corbin or Stephen Strasburg as part of the deal. I have a hard time imagining any team will take on Strasburg and the $140 million left on his deal, even in exchange for Soto. Corbin is a different story.

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While he hasn’t been good (5.61 ERA since 2020), he has at least been on the field for the most part. The Yankees and Corbin have been flirting for a long time, with the team apparently willing to offer $100 million over five years when Corbin was in free agency (though a formal offer was never made). Corbin is owed about $70 million through 2024 at $23.3 AAV. Is that something the Yankees might absorb to help lower the cost? Maybe Matt Blake sees something that he can salvage. The Yankees do need another starter, though i’m sure they’re aiming higher than Corbin. Let’s say the Yankees take on Corbin.

Now were looking at something like this:

Yankees receive: OF Juan Soto, LHP Patrick Corbin
Nationals receive: SS Anthony Volpe, OF Jasson Dominguez, LHP Ken Waldichuk, OF Everson Pereira, RHP Luis Medina, SS Roderick Arias

Is that enough? I am not sure there is a prospect package in baseball that equals the value Soto is worth. That checks a lot of boxes though so I think it gets the Yankees close. The Nationals get a global top prospect, two high potential outfield prospects, two borderline major league ready arms, a lottery ticket with top prospect potential, and unload Corbin’s contract.

Would I do this deal? Hell yes. Would I do it if they ask for Peraza instead of Pereira? Also hell yes. The team that gets the superstar very rarely regrets the trade. I understand losing prospects sucks. Losing Volpe would suck. But he is a 21 year old in Double-A. At 21 Juan Soto was a World Series Champion coming off a .333/.438/.741 line in the fall classic. The sum of what we hope those prospects can become is still likely less than the value of what Soto would provide on his own. Go look at the Yankees top prospect lists from 5+ years back and tell me you wouldn’t deal a package of similar ranked prospects for a player like this. Prospects will break your heart.

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Where would it leave the roster?

Let’s assume the package above is the one that gets it done. Let’s also assume the Yankees trade Joey Gallo at the trade deadline to open up a spot. Here is what the Yankees would be looking at in terms of roster construction:

C: Jose Trevino / Kyle Higashioka / Ben Rortvedt
1B: Anthony Rizzo / DJ LeMahieu / Matt Carpenter / Marwin Gonzalez
2B: Gleyber Torres / DJ LeMahieu / Marwin Gonzalez / Oswald Peraza / Oswaldo Cabrera
SS: IKF / Marwin Gonzalez / Oswald Peraza / Oswaldo Cabrera
3B: DJ LeMahieu / Josh Donaldson / Marwin Gonzalez / Matt Carpenter / Oswaldo Cabrera
LF: Aaron Hicks / Juan Soto / Miguel Andujar / Estevan Florial
CF: Aaron Judge / Aaron Hicks / Estevan Florial
RF: Juan Soto / Aaron Judge / Giancarlo Stanton
DH: Giancarlo Stanton / Matt Carpenter / Josh Donaldson
SP: Gerrit Cole / Jordan Montgomery / Luis Severino (injured) / Jameson Taillon / Nestor Cortes / Patrick Corbin
RP: Clay Holmes/ Mike King / Aroldis Chapman / Wandy Peralta / Jonathan Loaisiga / Lucas Luetge / Ron Marinaccio / Albert Abreu / Miguel Castro
SP/RP Depth: Domingo German / JP Sears / Clarke Schmidt / Hayden Wesneski

Italicized indicates the player being in the minors. Considering the Yankees would be trading so much prospect depth that … isn’t that bad. They would still have immediate backup ready in the majors or Triple-A for every single position. The other part? Almost the entire roster would be back next year as well. Only Chapman, Taillon, Castro, Carpenter, Gonzalez, and Judge are free agents. A majority of the key pieces would remain intact. That buys the Yankees a bit more time to develop some of the depth they’d be losing.

Once (if) Severino gets healthy they might need to get creative. Even without him its 14 pitchers for 13 spots. Castro is expendable and I could see them unloading him at the deadline to save a couple dollars like they have with Adam Warren and Luis Cessa in the past. Marinaccio also could be optioned but he has been effective when healthy and ideally he’d be in the ‘pen. These things often work themselves out though. Someone will land on the IL and free up a spot. Landing Juan Soto and still having almost an entire backup starting rotation one call away is pretty sweet.

What about Aaron Judge?

As if this wasn’t complex enough already, the pending Aaron Judge free agency makes this even more complicated. In Spring Training Judge rejected a 7-year, $230.5 million extension which would have locked him in to the Yankees payroll at a $30.5 AAV. Since then Aaron has done nothing but raise his value, posting a .284/.364/.618 line with a 172 wRC+ and 4.7 fWAR in just 89 games. He himself will likely be pushing to beat Trout’s $35.5 AAV this winter. Given he is on the wrong side of 30 his leverage on contract length isn’t as strong as Soto’s, but make no mistake Judge is going to get paid.

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Would the Yankees be willing to pay $36 million+ to both Judge and Soto long term, especially with them both being best suited at the same position? Add in Gerrit Cole’s $36 million a year and Giancarlo Stanton’s $22 million a year were looking at upwards of $130 million to four players. Never mind Gleyber Torres impending free agency in two years.

Can the Yankees afford it? Yes. Would they? I’m doubting it after seeing how the team has operated the last few years. It seems like it would have to be Judge or Soto. I love Aaron Judge. I want him on the Yankees forever. But if I have to choose between those two players I am choosing Soto every single time. If you say differently you’re blinded by the pinstripes. Seeing Judge in a different uniform would suck. Seeing Soto in a Yankees uniform would be more awesome than seeing Judge in another uniform would suck.

This bleeds into this next part…

What about the luxury tax?

I reserve the right to be wrong with my math here.

The Yankees are at about $263 million in payroll before any moves, leaving them about $7 million short of the third luxury tax threshold. Being the best team in baseball isn’t cheap. Acquiring Soto and Corbin would blow them past that third tier for 2022. Even if they manage to trade Joey Gallo and Miguel Castro there’s no way around that tier if they’re taking on Corbin.

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I am hesitant to think Hal would approve the third tier, but given this is all hypothetical i’ll proceed as if he will. 2022 is a lost cause for saving money. With this fake trade the Yankees plunge into the next tax bracket and their first round pick moves back 10 spots in next years draft.

How will this change things going forward? Given the above mentioned plunge, Hal will likely be eager to chop things down next year. The first tax threshold bumps from $230 million to $233 in 2023. Before arbitration and free agent contracts Spotrac has the Yankees at $145,785,714 in payroll commitments assuming they exercise Luis Severino’s option.

That leaves a little over $87 million to fill out the rest of the roster. Add in Corbin and that brings it down to about $64 million. Anthony Rizzo has a player option for $16 million and given his play it is not unreasonable he could renegotiate to up that salary for 2023. I’ll leave him at $16 million for these projections but chances are that number is going up.

Notable players eligible for arbitration this offseason:

  • Nestor Cortes (1st time)
  • Mike King (1st time)
  • Jose Trevino (1st time)
  • Clay Holmes (2nd time)
  • Domingo German (2nd time)
  • Jonathan Loaisiga (2nd time)
  • Kyle Higashioka (2nd time)
  • Lucas Luetge (2nd time)
  • Gleyber Torres (3rd time)
  • Isiah Kiner-Falefa (3rd time)
  • Jordan Montgomery (4th time)
  • Wandy Peralta (4th time)

So yeah. It won’t be cheap. Those players above account for about $28 million worth of salary this year and thats with Cortes, Trevino, and King all playing like All-Stars on minimum contracts. Theres some players on the fringes they can chop here (Higashioka, Luetge, German) and replace with cheaper options but it won’t make a considerable difference. A majority of the remaining $64 million would get absorbed with arbitration raises. This doesn’t even include Soto’s arbitration salary or potential contract extension.

That loops us back to the Aaron Judge decision. Can they keep the same roster in tact with Soto and Corbin and still pay to bring back Judge? It’s hard to see them getting under the first tier for 2023 if they resign Judge at $36+ million per year. The Yankees could explore adding a prospect to Josh Donaldson ($25 million AAV) or Aaron Hicks ($10 million AAV) in the offseason to create some wiggle room. They’ve done it before. Swapping those two out and resigning Judge would pretty much be a wash. I don’t think they would hesitate to dump Donaldson given the resurgences of Torres and LeMahieu.

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The Yankees don’t have to reset the tax in 2023. They stayed under the first threshold in 2021 so they can afford one more season above the tax next year before having to duck back under. Severino, Montgomery, and Donaldson (assuming they decline his option and pay his buyout) come off the books after 2023. So would Rizzo if he doesn’t renegotiate his contract. It might be easier to do then.

Conclusion

I went back and forth a few times while writing this as to wether to write it with the Yankees taking on Corbin or not. Absorbing money of a lost cause contract is not how the Yankees operate these days. But without that the trade package seemed unrealistic.

With Soto, Judge, Stanton, Cole, and Corbin in tow maintaining a competitive roster while abiding to a self imposed tax would be very difficult. It would seemingly come down to Judge or Soto if they do take on Corbin’s contract. Without Corbin, keeping Judge and resetting the luxury tax seems more plausible.

All of this seems like something outside the way the Yankees operate these days. They have prioritized depth over the last few years as opposed to stacking star players. Selling the farm and giving out a record contract seems like something the Yankees of old would do, not the Yankees of new.

However when the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, Brian Cashman talked about how while the Yankees might not flex their financial power as often as they used to they still have that as an option when the right player comes along. If Juan Soto isn’t one of those players I don’t know who is. Opportunities to acquire a generational hitter don’t really come along and when they do come along, you trade your best prospects to get the player and worry about the rest later.

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I’m fully of the opinion the Yankees should do whatever it takes to land Soto. Trading prospects sucks, but you stack prospects in hopes of getting top talent when it becomes available. It is unlikely Volpe, or any of the players in the Yankees system, will amount to the same impact Soto will have over the next 10+ years.

There is a lot to figure out here. Money, roster construction, Aaron Judge, etc. But the time to win is right now and going all in for Juan Soto gives the Yankees their best chance of bringing the World Series trophy back to the Bronx where it belongs.

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