Juan Soto shrugs off extension talk – Yankees know ‘where to call’

Juan Soto held his introductory news conference with the New York Yankees on Tuesday, greeting the media via Zoom call wearing a Yankees hat — and although he smiled when asked about wearing the hat for the first time, he didn’t commit to signing. Contract extension.

He also did not rule it out.

“They know where to call and who to talk to,” he said, referring to agent Scott Boras. “I’m just here to play baseball.”

That was the message Soto repeated throughout the 30-minute hearing. He’s looking forward to meeting his new teammates — Aaron Judge, among others, has already reached out to him — and getting to know the organization.

His ideal season is to win a championship. He will bring energy to the field and the club every game. However, Soto realizes he is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season, will face ongoing questions about staying in New York, and said it wouldn’t be difficult to focus on baseball instead of the potentially big payday some are anticipating with a $400 million contract. .

“I’ve been doing this for six years,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be that hard. Scott Boras is my agent. I put everything on him and let him give his advice. My mentality is to come here to play baseball and try to win a championship.”

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That’s why the Yankees made the deal: They missed the playoffs in 2023 for the first time since 2016 after finishing 25th in the majors in runs scored. The Yankees acquired Soto and outfielder Trent Gresham from the San Diego Padres on December 6 for right-handed pitchers Michael King, Randy Vasquez, Johnny Brito, and Drew Thorpe, and catcher Kyle Higashioka.

One of the most precocious hitters in recent memory, Soto reached the major leagues as a 19-year-old in 2018 and helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series in 2019, hitting .333 with three home runs in a seven-game win over the Houston Astros .

Compared to Ted Williams for his ability to get on base at such a high rate, he may not have quite reached those lofty expectations, but since his first full season in 2019, no hitter has generated more innings innings than Soto. According to Baseball Reference, he produced 208 more runs than the average hitter; Freddie Freeman and Judge are tied for second place with 189 points. He has led the majors in walks in each of the past three seasons and has posted an on-base percentage over .400 in each year of his career, leading the majors in 2020 (.490) and 2021 (.465).

The Yankees were also particularly desperate for some left-handed hitting for the lineup: they ranked 27th in OPS from left-handed hitters (.673) and 28th in home runs (55). Grisham also bats left-handed, as does Alex Verdugo, who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in another trade.

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While the Padres were disappointing as a team, Soto hit .275/.410/.519 with 35 home runs, 109 RBIs and 132 walks, ranking ninth in the majors in OPS. That number could rise with his move to Yankee Stadium, where he has hit four home runs in 28 career games. He also walked away from Petco Park, a tough spot for hitters, where he hit 23 of his 35 home runs on the road. Soto sprays the ball around the infield but should still be able to take advantage of the short right field wall at Yankee Stadium.

“I know there’s a really short balcony and you’re going to be on your mind, but I’m definitely going to try to stick with the same approach I’ve been doing,” he said.

However, with the Yankees giving up Michael King — who was expected to be one of their starting pitchers — in the trade, as well as three other young prospects in Thorpe, Vasquez and Brito, there will be pressure on general manager Brian Cashman and ownership to sign Soto. After all, the Yankees have passed other popular players in recent years: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Shohei Ohtani this season.

Given Soto’s age and production, the extension could surpass Mike Trout’s $426 million contract as the second-largest in the sport. Soto reportedly rejected a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals in 2022, prompting a trade that summer to the Padres.

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