Yankees get OF Soto in 7-player deal with Padres

MLB

The San Diego Padres traded Juan Soto to the New York Yankees on Wednesday, marking the second trade in less than 17 months for the 25-year-old outfielder who has established himself as one of this era’s most gifted hitters.

The Yankees also received outfielder Trent Grisham from the Padres as part of the seven-player deal. In exchange, San Diego received right-handers Michael King, Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez, starting-pitching prospect Drew Thorpe and catcher Kyle Higashioka.

The Yankees went into the offseason in search of two every-day left-handed-hitting outfielders and acquired both this week. On Tuesday night, they completed a rare trade with the rival Boston Red Sox to acquire Alex Verdugo in exchange for three pitchers.

Less than 24 hours later, the Yanks swung the deal that had been highly speculated on for several weeks, putting Soto in an outfield mix with Verdugo, Grisham, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the latter of whom is more of a designated hitter at this point.

Verdugo, 27, and Soto, 25, are both heading into their final year before free agency, but the Yankees would undoubtedly love to keep Soto long term. Neither Judge nor Verdugo are primary center fielders, but one of them will have to man the position on a full-time basis under this construction.

Grisham, also a left-handed hitter, comes in as a fourth outfielder who can be subbed in for defensive purposes late in games and also draw some starts against righties.

Grisham’s departure might clear a path for Fernando Tatis Jr. — a lifelong shortstop who won a Platinum Glove in his first full season as a right fielder in 2023 – to play center field, though the Padres have also shown interest in Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee.

The Padres initially acquired Soto by sending an impressive haul of prospects — headlined by shortstop CJ Abrams, starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore and three other highly regarded young players — to the Washington Nationals in August of 2022. The Padres’ plan was to have Soto for three playoff races before he ventured into free agency, teaming him with fellow superstars Manny Machado, Tatis and, eventually, Xander Bogaerts.

Instead, they got only one.

The Padres rode the acquisitions of Soto and star closer Josh Hader all the way to the National League Championship Series in 2022, but they did not make the playoffs during a thoroughly disappointing 2023 season. The ensuing offseason found them with a desire to cut from a payroll that had exceeded $250 million and fill out a rotation left barren from several free-agent departures.

Trading Soto — a highly coveted player heading into his final season before free agency — proved to be their best, most efficient path.

But it was also painful.

Since debuting as a 19-year-old in 2018, Soto, with his combination of patience and power, has slashed .284/.421/.524 with 160 home runs and 483 RBIs in 779 games, making three All-Star teams and capturing four Silver Sluggers. In that six-year stretch, Soto has drawn 640 walks and struck out 577 times, a rare ratio at a time when pitchers routinely throw into the triple digits with devastating breaking pitches.

Soto won a batting title during the COVID-19-shortened season in 2020 and led the majors in walks each of the next three years, accumulating 412 free passes — while striking out 94 fewer times — but also amassing 91 home runs. His adjusted OPS of 157 is the fifth-highest all-time through a player’s age-24 season, trailing only Ty Cobb, Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Nationals’ trade of Soto, whom they originally signed out of the Dominican Republic, came after he declined a reported 15-year, $440 million extension, prompting them to go into rebuilding mode. Soto finished that season with a career-low .853 OPS, but his numbers picked back up in his first full season with the Padres in 2023, during which he slashed .275/.410/.519 with 35 home runs and 109 RBIs while playing in all 162 games.

The Padres began the offseason with only Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish remaining from their 2023 rotation, the free agencies of Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo leaving them with as many as three holes to fill. The Soto trade helps alleviate some of that need.

King, a 28-year-old who posted a 1.88 ERA in eight starts after transitioning to the Yankees’ rotation late last season, will probably fill one of the open spots. Brito and Vasquez, both 25-year-olds who debuted last season, are also options. And so is Thorpe, who dominated in high A and Double-A in his age-22 season in 2023, going 14-2 with a 2.52 ERA while striking out 182 batters and issuing 38 walks in 139 1/3 innings. Brito posted a 4.28 ERA in 25 games (13 starts) in 2023; Vasquez had a 2.87 ERA in 11 games (five starts).

Higashioka, who’s a year away from free agency, gives the Padres another option behind the plate alongside 25-year-old catcher Luis Campusano.

But the real prize, of course, is Soto, whose transition from San Diego’s spacious Petco Park to Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch might unlock yet another level to his already illustrious offensive prowess. He’s guaranteed only one year in the Bronx, but the Yankees would love to extend his stay somehow.

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