NASHVILLE, TN – Dead end. The dilemma. She stayed in place. Whatever you want to call the strange space occupied by trade talks between the New York Yankees and San Diego Padres for star left-hander Juan Soto, don’t call it over. While the two sides appear to have toned down their once-heated discussions, they are bound to heat up again as the winter meetings begin Monday, according to a league source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.
Whether it’s on the phone, in a lavish suite or in an expensive restaurant or bar at the maze-like Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and his counterpart, AJ Preller, will re-engage with Soto, the 25-year-old left-hander. Who could become the best player traded all season.
Let’s look at where things stand:
The Yankees want Soto, who hit 35 home runs and led the National League in walks with 132 while playing in all 162 games last season. His .275 batting average, 32 doubles and 109 RBIs also led to a 155 wRC+, a mark 55 percent better than the league average. Since 2018, his debut season, Soto has averaged 28.4 fWAR, eighth in the MLB. He’s one of the best hitters in the game, perhaps the best left-handed hitter, and Cashman said his goal is to add a left-handed hitter. Soto isn’t a good defender or base runner, but his bat makes him worth it. Also, Soto will be a free agent next season, and there is almost no chance he will sign a contract extension without testing free agency. Soto and his agent Scott Boras rejected a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Washington Nationals in 2022.
The Padres are targeting young starters who are MLB ready or close to it, the source said. The names they suggested were big-league arms Clark Schmidt and Michael King, expected to be in the Yankees’ starting rotation next season. They also drafted swingmen Randy Vasquez and Johnny Brito, and prospect Drew Thorpe, whom Baseball America ranked No. 96 overall on its Top 100 Prospects list at the end of last season. Other notable Yankees players, including Iverson Pereira, a hard-hitting outfielder, and Oswald Peraza, a shortstop, are expected to be at the table. The Yankees would particularly hate to hand over King or Thorpe, the source said.
The Padres have also floated adding center fielder Trent Grisham to the mix, the source said.
The Yankees considered the Padres’ request — a version of an 8-for-2 swap — too steep, the source said. The Padres appear to be in salary dump mode, and the team that acquires Soto will pay all of the projected $33 million he is set to receive next season through salary arbitration. Getting rid of the 27-year-old Grisham would add another projected $4.9 million to the pot. The Yankees appear to be one of the few teams that can offer the Padres financial relief and a high-profile, high-quality starter.
But the Padres also know that the Yankees have been under intense pressure from their fan base to improve on a disappointing 2023 season in which they went 82-80 and missed the playoffs. Adding Soto could go a long way toward taking pressure off the Yankees. Watching Soto trade elsewhere might raise the anxiety a few notches.
There are a few.
The Padres may have to let star free agent Shohei Ohtani make a decision on his next home base before trading Soto. Teams that lose to Ohtani can either redouble their efforts to acquire Soto or start eyeing the Dominican Republic native as a consolation prize. For example: The Toronto Blue Jays have spoken to the Padres about Soto, and they are also believed to be a serious contender for Ohtani. The Padres could play the Blue Jays against the Yankees — and vice versa — to try to get the Soto deal of their dreams.
San Diego’s most obvious need is in starting pitching, with NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Michael Wacha free agents. The longer the Padres wait, the more free pitchers will come off the board, leaving them with fewer options.
For the Yankees, who need help in the outfield and left-handed hitting, there are other options. Nothing is as attractive as Soto. The team is interested in quarterback Cody Bellinger, but so far the asking price has been set too high, the source said. The Yankees could also look at Kevin Kiermaier or Jung-Hoo Lee. It’s unclear how the Yankees’ pursuit of Soto could impact their payment for Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who is also a free agent.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Padres would trade Soto. If the Yankees and San Diego have gotten this far in negotiations, both sides clearly see a hypothetical matchup. It’s not uncommon for these types of conversations to start when both sides ask for the moon and stars before they return to Earth — or, more specifically, to the Honky Tonk Highway.
(Photo: Steve Chambers/Getty Images)
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