Thursday, December 7, 2023

Juan Soto: Dreams Come True...


Credit: @Yankees via X

Juan Soto is a Yankee.

The New York Yankees successfully acquired young superstar outfielder Juan Soto; a player coveted by the Yankees fan base for years. 

Despite the acquisition of one of baseball’s brightest young talents, the 2023 Baseball Winter Meetings were largely a bore. I am excited that the Yankees acquired Soto, but the process was tiring. I guess I would have liked it better if we had received a Jeff Passan tweet that simply said, “Yankees acquire Juan Soto”. All the tweets and reports from the various team beat writers saying a deal was close to the finish line was too long and drawn out. After hearing the Yankees and Padres were trying to complete the deal all day on Wednesday, the final day of the Winter Meetings, the official word was finally announced at nearly 11 p.m. Eastern time. 

Wednesday evening there were reports that medical records (review on the San Diego side) were holding up the deal. Then, there were reports the Padres executives were attending a social event. I was not sure what to think, but the reports from the trustworthy beat writers did not express any concern that the deal was falling apart. Finally, Joel Sherman broke the news that the deal was done. Whew! 

I thought the Yankees might give Jack Curry an exclusive to break the news. The Yankees Hot Stove show was scheduled to air at 10:30 p.m. Eastern (around the time the news started breaking about the finalization of the trade). Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Nets postgame show ran over so Yankee fans had to patiently (or rather impatiently) wait through the Nets postgame show to finally hear Jack Curry confirm the Soto trade.

It was a long, difficult road with so many rumors. Granted, much of it was trade posturing. In the days leading up to the trade, it felt like the Padres might wait to see the market develop after Shohei Ohtani signs, thinking the jilted suitors might flip their attention to Soto. Fortunately, it was all smoke. The Yankees had the best offer on the table, and it gave the Padres the pitching and financial relief they needed to make the deal. 

Losing Michael King hurts. I appreciated and valued Michael King, the reliever, and then I got even more excited when he excelled during his brief audition as a starter late last season. I was looking forward to King’s future in the starting rotation. I know he has dealt with his share of injuries in recent years, but I did not want to see him go. Obviously, losing him for Juan Soto is a deal you would make every day of the week, but it does not mean that there cannot be sadness to see King go. I truly wish him the best in San Diego. I was hopeful the Yankees would not lose both King and Drew Thorpe, yet they did. I would have preferred to see Clarke Schmidt accompany Thorpe to the West Coast over King, but it was not meant to be. The Yankees paid a healthy price for Soto and center fielder Trent Grisham…four pitchers…King, Thorpe, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vasquez…along with catcher Kyle Higashioka. I refuse to call it an “overpay” even though the Yankees are guaranteed only one year with Soto. Soto is exactly what the Yankees need, and he is worth the cost regardless of how much it hurts. 

Credit: FriarWire, Official Blog of the San Diego Padres

Higgy leaves as the longest-tenured Yankee. I am proud of his time in the Yankees organization, and I am glad he has been part of the team. I recognized that his salary and age were working against him, and it made him the most likely departee among the multiple catchers on the 40-man roster.  Like Austin Romine before him, there comes a time when the Yankees and a player must part ways. Sadly, for Higgy, the day was December 6, 2023. 

Brito and Vasquez did a good job providing rotation depth last year, but I am hopeful the pitchers remaining in the organization will step up. Will Warren, Chase Hampton, and Clayton Beeter are the pitchers who immediately come to mind. Luis Gil will also be back after distancing himself from Tommy John surgery. Nevertheless, the pitching losses reinforce the need to bolster the pitching staff between now and Spring Training. 

Congratulations to General Manager Brian Cashman and his team for closing the deal to bring the 25-year-old superstar Juan Soto to New York. I was not sure they would do it. After ignoring most elite free agent talent in recent years, it seemed implausible the Yankees would pay for a potential future Hall of Famer with prospects and proven Major League talent when they could have had the best of the best for only cash and passed. I am glad they did.  Soto alone is not enough, but Cashman seems to understand there is more work to do…or at least I hope he does.

Although the Yankees acquired outfielder Alex Verdugo earlier in the week from the Boston Red Sox, I am not convinced the 2024 Opening Day outfield will feature Judge, Soto, and Verdugo. The early speculation has Verdugo in left and Soto in right, pushing Judge to center. Cashman made an interesting comment during today’s press conference he held with beat writers when he said that if the season opened today, Judge would be in center. It leaves open the possibility there may be changes. In other words, there is no guarantee Verdugo will be on the opening-day roster. He could be moved for pitching if the Yankees come up with a better outfield solution that would keep Judge in right. Of course, the question would then become where you put Soto who seems better suited to play right field over left field. 

I had been hopeful the Yankees would sign Cody Bellinger as the second move behind the Soto acquisition. Bellinger, if you believe he found himself last year in Chicago, offers both offense and defense and could cover center field until Jasson Dominguez is ready to return late next season and he could back up Anthony Rizzo at first base. Verdugo is simply a corner outfielder who has not played center field in a few years. He is not known for his defense and is obviously far less versatile than a player like Bellinger.  I think the Bellinger dream is gone, but I am hopeful the Yankees can find the best outfield mix. If it ends up with Soto, Judge, and Verdugo, so be it.  I am glad Trent Grisham is around as the fourth outfielder over the various options we had last year. It seems like Grisham will get plenty of playing time. I certainly like Grisham better than Verdugo even if Verdugo is the better everyday player. I do feel badly for Estevan Florial who will probably never get a genuine opportunity in Pinstripes. As much as I like Everson Pereira, I fully expect his name to be part of any trade acquisitions for pitching. 

Since Manager Aaron Boone stated this week that DJ LeMahieu will be the starting third baseman in 2024, the Yankees have much riding on the health of their older corner infielders.  There has been no speculation about Oswald Peraza, but I did find it odd that Peraza was not even given a chance to compete for the starting role in Spring Training.  Both Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera can still find their way on the 26-man roster as part of the bench strength, yet if Peraza is included in a trade for pitching, it would not surprise me. Peraza and the Miami Marlins make total sense to me.

The Yankees will now turn their attention to Yoshinobu Yamamoto. They plan to meet with the free-agent Japanese pitcher on Monday.  The competition for Yamamoto is steep. The Mets, backed by Steve Cohen’s huge wallet, are interested. If the Dodgers lose out on Shohei Ohtani, they may enter the bidding for Yamamoto if they are not there already. It seems like the Yankees are one of the favorites to sign Yamamoto, but it is far from a certainty, and if the bidding gets excessive (hearing reports of $300 million plus the $46 million posting fee), it does seem like Hal Steinbrenner may tap out.  If the Yankees find Yamamoto too expensive, they might look at a reunion with Jordan Montgomery. I would like to see Gumby return, but I wish it was not predicated on whether they get Yamamoto. I would prefer to see Montgomery return as a stand-alone move.  With the questions surrounding Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes, Jr, the rotation needs greater dependability in the other spots behind Gerrit Cole and for depth purposes. If the Yankees do not sign Montgomery, I hope he returns to the Texas Rangers. It would be tough to see him pitch for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, or Orioles.  There is room for Montgomery in the Yankees rotation regardless of whether they sign Yamamoto. 

Given the time the Yankees have spent following Yamamoto in Japan including Brian Cashman’s trip last summer when Yamamoto threw a no-hitter, the Yankees are clearly all-in on the talented righthander.  There is no doubt Yamamoto has felt the Yankees’ presence for a long time which helps. I am glad the team is pulling in Hideki Matsui as part of the recruitment team. Unfortunately, I am less optimistic about Yamamoto than I was with Soto.  I tried hard to temper my excitement for Soto under the belief the Yankees might (would) fall short. It worked out with Soto, however, there are no guarantees with Yamamoto and perhaps more adversity given the steeper competition in play for Yamamoto’s services. 

We keep saying the Yankees need to protect the best years of Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge. If the Yankees sign Yamamoto and can re-sign Soto after next season, they could represent the core of the team in the years beyond 2024. We will be talking about protecting their best years. 

I have seen fans already grading the Yankees’ offseason. I prefer to wait for the finished product or at least until we see the guys who show up in Tampa for Spring Training in February. There is work to be done and it will determine how much better the Yankees can be in 2024.

Suffice it to say that I feel better about the Yankees with Juan Soto and Trent Grisham than without.  Nevertheless, other teams are not going to sleep on the Yankees. They are working to get better, and it is possible the best player in the game, Shohei Ohtani, may sign with Toronto, a key division rival. The Orioles have a wealth of young talent, and if they made a financial commitment to invest in starting pitching, they could be a dominant force for years to come. Never underestimate the Rays or the Red Sox.  If Brian Cashman wants to be up for the challenge in the American League to compete with the league’s best, there will be no rest between now and Spring Training.

Thanks for bringing Juan Soto to us, Brian Cashman, now get to work!

Loss of Pitching

The Yankees took a huge hit with their pitching depth this week because of the Verdugo and Soto trades, and the Rule 5 Draft. RHP Mitch Spence and RHP Matt Sauer were the first two Rule 5 Draft selections made. Ouch!

The list is long:

RHP Greg Weissert, RHP Richard Fitts, and RHP Nicholas Judice to Boston. 

RHP Michael King, RHP Randy Vasquez, RHP Jhony Brito, and RHP Drew Thorpe to San Diego.

RHP Mitch Spence, selected by Oakland in Rule 5 Draft.

RHP Matt Sauer, selected by Kansas City in Rule 5 Draft.

RHP Carson Coleman, selected by Texas in Rule 5 Draft.

Although most Rule 5 picks are generally returned, it seems like a certainty Spence will stick with the lowly A’s and there is a strong chance Sauer stays with the Royals all season long.  Carson Coleman had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last spring, but the Rangers feel he has upside for the bullpen after he completes his rehab. It is possible and maybe probable that all three of the Rule 5 losses stick with their new teams for the duration of the upcoming season. 

Credit to the Yankees for how they have drafted and developed pitching in recent years.  Hopefully, the trend continues as they will need to make up for the losses.  I was dreading the Rule 5 Draft as I do every year since the Yankees are always one of the most targeted teams. It was as painful as I expected.  Even when I see a former Yankees prospect lost in the Rule 5 Draft bounce from team to team like catcher Luis Torrens, I wonder what could have been if the player had been allowed to continue his development in the Yankees organization.  Spence, Sauer, and Coleman appear to be more Major League-ready than Torrens did, but new organizations represent change, for better or worse, and the players will need to adapt.  I wish them luck with the slight hope they are offered back to the Yankees.

As always, Go Yankees!