The San Diego Padres traded Juan Soto to the New York Yankeeslate Wednesday night, 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 Grishamfrom the Padres as part of the seven-player deal. In exchange, San Diego received right-handersMichael King, Jhony BritoandRandy Vasquez, starting pitching prospectDrew Thorpeand catcherKyle Higashioka.
New York 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.
A little more than 24 hours later, the Yankees and Padres swung the deal that had been highly speculated about for several weeks. The two sides had agreed on the players in this deal as of Tuesday night and seemed as if they would complete the deal by Wednesday afternoon, sources told ESPN. However, the logistics of clearing the medicals while some trainers were flying -- particularly with regard to Thorpe, who ended the 2023 season on the injured list with a subluxation in his non-throwing shoulder -- delayed the process until close to midnight on the East Coast.
Padres general manager A.J. Preller, speaking shortly after the deal was finalized, said he received interest in Soto from as many as 10 teams over the past couple of weeks.
"It's very difficult to make a deal where you're trading a player the caliber of Juan Soto," Preller said. "But if we did that, we wanted to make sure we shored up a bunch of needs. We were able to get some depth with quality."
Verdugo and Soto are heading into their final year before free agency, but the Yankees would undoubtedly love to keep Soto long term. Neither Judge nor Verdugo is a primary center fielder, 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 draw some starts against righties.
Grisham's departure might clear a path in San Diego 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 also have shown interest in Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee. The Padres also want to add at least one more starting pitcher, Preller said. By clearing somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million with the Soto deal, the Padres theoretically could add Lee and another arm in hopes of continuing to compete in an increasingly difficult National League West.
Asked about the difficulty of not seeing this through with Soto, Preller said: "For us, we saw it as the potential to have three pennant races with Juan in play, and maybe more. But I think even from the time we made the deal -- both internally, in baseball operations, myself with Peter Seidler at the time -- we understood that you can also pivot. That's just part of having elite players, is that there's always interest for elite players and premium-type talent. We understood that."
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 2022. The Padres' plan was to have Soto for three playoff races before he ventured into free agency, teaming him with fellow superstarsTatis,Manny Machadoand, 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 NL Championship Series in 2022, but they did not make the playoffs during a thoroughly disappointing 2023 campaign. 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 proved to be the Padres' 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 winning 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 pandemic-shortened season in 2020 and led the majors in walks in 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 Padres never formally offered Soto a contract extension, partly because they got the sense he preferred to venture into the open market, a common occurrence for high-profile Scott Boras clients.
The Padres' payroll is expected to be in the neighborhood of $200 million next season -- a sizable drop from 2023 but still a big number throughout the industry, especially with regard to their market size.
"I think we're going to run very competitive payrolls over the next five years, and I think we're going to have a very competitive payroll this year," Preller said. "But it's just what's the best way to use that dollars, that player, and ultimately we decided to go add five players that I think are going to potentially play on our roster this year versus one. One very elite player. And also Trent Grisham; he's a really good center fielder as well. We'll see how it goes, but I think adding those players right now, and then being in a spot to do some more things, round out a club, that's ultimately the route we went with."
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 2022 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, as the free agencies of Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo left them with as many as three holes to fill. The Soto trade helps alleviate some of that need.
King, 28, posted a 1.88 ERA in eight starts after transitioning to the Yankees' rotation late last season, and probably will fill one of the open spots. Brito and Vasquez, both 25-year-olds who debuted last season, also are 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 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 is a year away from free agency, gives the Padres another option behind the plate alongside catcher Luis Campusano, 25.
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 of his already illustrious offensive prowess. He is guaranteed only one year in the Bronx, but the Yankees would love to extend his stay somehow.