Juan Soto trade grades: Yankees, Padres pull off win-win deal as slugger moves to the Bronx

The Yankees made the biggest splash of the MLB Winter Meetings on Wednesday, trading for superstar hitter Juan Soto to pair with superstar hitter Aaron Judge in the lineup.

For an industry starved for news, it was a welcome change. But more importantly, for the Yankees and their fans, Soto represents the type of impact hitter the club so desperately needed. He’s just 25 years old, but already has a career 28.6 bWAR, four Silver Slugger awards and three top-six MVP finishes. He’s on the short list of the best hitters in the majors. 

The immediate follow-up question, of course, is this: Can the Yankees sign him to a long-term extension? Any sort of eventual final grade for the Yankees on this deal rests on the answer to that question. 

But in the short term, this was a (SPOILER) really good deal for the Yankees. Let’s take a look at both sides. 

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Juan Soto trade grades

Yankees grade: A-minus

  • Yankees receive: OF Juan Soto, OF Trent Grisham

How much did the Yankees need a lineup upgrade this offseason? Let’s look at it this way: On Tuesday night, they traded for Alex Verdugo, an outfielder that the Red Sox so desperately wanted to part ways with that they traded him to the rival Yankees. Over the past two seasons, Verdugo had an OPS+ of 101, meaning he was exactly ONE percent better than league average. Underwhelming, to say the least. For the Yankees, though? Just getting back to league average production from an outfield spot — other than Judge, of course — represented a huge upgrade. Here are the OPS+ numbers from the other players who saw at least 20 games in the outfield (in descending order of games): 58, 75, 78, 87, 98, 87, 20, 45, 81.

With numbers like that, the names don’t even really matter. Even with Judge’s 175 OPS+ included, the club’s outfielders had a combined 85 OPS+, ranking 26th of the 30 teams, just one point ahead of the Royals. The Yankees needed upgrades, plural. So they acquired Verdugo to make a minimal upgrade. Then they went out and landed Soto, a real upgrade, a hitter who makes the Yankees again legitimate playoff contenders (though more rotation help is needed). 

Trading for Juan Soto was a great idea, and any cost short of guys like Anthony Volpe, Jasson Dominguez or Spencer Jones was a worthwhile price. And that stands true even if Soto leaves as a free agent. It was worth the risk of acquiring him and getting an entire season inside the machine as their free-agent pitch. Best-case scenario is not any sort of hometown discount — that’s not happening — but getting Soto to sign a deal before he reaches free agency. What will that take?

Remember, Soto’s already turned down one massive extension offer, a reported $440 million over 15 years — an average of $29.3 million per year — proposed by the Nationals in the middle of the 2022 season. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the offer was reportedly massively back-loaded; details were not revealed, but safe to say Soto was not scheduled to receive $29.3 million in 2022 or 2023. He made $23 million in 2023 and is likely to land over $30 million in 2024, meaning that so far he’s outpaced that extension offer. 

And now? Soto turned 25 in October, and he’ll be 26 to start the 2025 season, the first year of his new contract. He very well could get a deal worth more than $440 million, on a deal at least 10 years long, maybe up to 13 years, if that’s what he wants. Judge, remember, got $360 million for nine years, entering his age 31 season. If Soto gets that same AAV of $40 million for, let’s say, 13 years — Judge will be 40 at the end of his deal, Soto would be 39 at the end of a 13-year deal — that’s a $520 million contract. 

If Soto hits the free-agent market after a season taking aim at Yankee Stadium’s famous short porch in right field — my goodness, the numbers he could put up — that $520 million number might seem like a bargain.

As for Grisham, he’s a bit of a roll of the dice. Talented, no doubt. Free agent after the 2025 season, which is nice. But his slash line the past two seasons … isn’t great: .191/.300/.347, with an OPS+ of 84. Will the Yankees go into the season with both Verdugo and Grisham (both lefty hitters) or are there more moves on the way?

MORE: Projecting the Yankees’ 2024 lineup with Juan Soto

Padres grade: A-plus

  • Padres receive: SP Michael King, P Randy Vasquez, P Jhony Brito, C Kyle Higashioka, SP prospect Drew Thorpe

San Diego did really well here. The thing to remember is this: Trading Soto was always an option for the Padres. It’s not a last-ditch admission of failure. When they acquired Soto, he had two-and-a-half years remaining of club control. In an ideal world, they might have made three playoff pushes, won a couple World Series titles and signed him to a long-term contract. But instead, they made two playoff pushes with him in the lineup — reaching the NLCS one year, falling short of the postseason the second — and now move him for a package of prospects/pitchers that’s better than anyone seemed to think they might get. Did they get as much back as they traded away in 2022? Probably not, but they certainly didn’t get fleeced, either, especially considering Soto came with a hefty salary number — more than $30 million, expected — for 2024. 

King might not be the best player in the deal in the long run, but he’s the most important to the Padres in 2024. San Diego will be hit hard by free-agent losses — Nick Martinez has already signed with the Reds, and Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and closer Josh Hader are expected to leave, too — so getting back someone to take one of those spots is key. King had been a great piece out of the bullpen, then thrived when given a chance to start late in 2023. He was limited his first couple starts, then turned loose (relatively speaking) down the stretch. The signature game was against the Blue Jays on Sept. 20, a 13-strikeout performance, when he allowed just five hits and one run in seven full innings. 

Thorpe, the No. 5 prospect in the organization according to MLB.com, was a second-round pick out of college in the 2022 MLB Draft and he was dominant in his first pro season, 2023. In 18 starts at High-A and five at Double-A, Thorpe had a 2.52 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 139 1/3 innings. Maybe most impressive is that he was better at the higher level, posting a 1.48 ERA in Double-A after a 2.81 ERA in High-A. It’s possible he could reach the bigs at some point in 2024, though 2025 is a more reasonable expectation for him to really impact the Pads.

Brito and Vasquez combined to make 36 appearances in the big leagues, including 16 starts. Brito had a 4.28 ERA and Vasquez checked in at 2.87. Both will have a big impact on the San Diego rotation in 2024 and beyond.

Source : ESPN.com

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