While the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes is understandably the story of the offseason, a not-too-distant second is the potential availability of Padres superstar Juan Soto — with San Diego reportedly desperate to slash payroll before next season and shedding Soto’s hefty salary the cleanest way to do it.
From pretty much the moment this offseason began, one team was pegged as the clear frontrunner for Soto’s services: the New York Yankees, who not only have the means to get a deal done but are also desperate for a left-handed outfield bat in the middle of their order — in other words, desperate for a player exactly like Soto. And sure enough, pretty much all the reporting in recent weeks has indicated that the two teams were in consistent negotiations, with a deal more a matter of “when” than “if”.
But if Hot Stove season has taught us anything, it’s that a deal is only done when it’s done. As the baseball world prepares to descend on Nashville for the 2023 Winter Meetings, it appears that Soto to the Yankees may not be such a sure thing after all.
Juan Soto trade rumors: Saturday, Dec. 2
First came a report from The Athletic on Friday night, claiming that the Yankees and Padres were “far apart on a deal” — and that a new team, the Toronto Blue Jays, had emerged as serious competition for Soto. A follow-up from Jon Heyman of the New York Post agreed that there was an “enormous gap” between New York and San Diego at the moment, with the Yankees particularly reluctant to part with reliever-turned-starter Michael King and top pitching prospect Drew Thorpe.
It’s worth noting that both Heyman and The Athletic were hardly closing the door on Soto going to New York. Even without King or Thorpe, the Yankees have plenty of assets to build an enticing package around, and both sides should be highly motivated to get a deal done. And really, trading for Soto was never going to be completely smooth sailing: He’s simply too good a player for the Padres not to demand a ransom for him, even with just a year remaining before free agency (and even with the entire league knowing that San Diego can’t afford to keep him). It’s no surprise that Preller wants to create a bidding war for his star, rather than letting Cashman dictate the terms of the negotiation.
It’s also no surprise that the Blue Jays are one of the teams that might jump in to said bidding war. We included them in our list of Soto’s top trade destinations for a reason, after all: Toronto has the money, with just $142 million committed to next year’s payroll after cracking the $200 million mark in 2023; they have the urgency, coming off of an underwhelming 89-win season and second straight Wild Card exit; and they have the need, with Kevin Kiermaier’s free agency shifting Daulton Varsho to center field and opening up a hole in left — and a righty-heavy lineup crying out for a lefty presence in the middle. With Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. now just two years away from free agency, the time for the Jays to go all-in is now, and acquiring Soto would be the best (non-Ohtani) way to do just that.
So where will Soto eventually wind up? Which team will blink first? It’s too soon to tell, but the smart money is still on the Yankees: The fit is simply too neat, and New York’s motivation to return to the playoffs — and potentially save the jobs of both Cashman and Aaron Boone — is simply too high. They also have more young pitching than the Blue Jays can offer, which is reportedly on the top of San Diego’s wish list. Then again, Cashman has made a habit of getting a bit too cute when it comes to negotiating for star talent, often unwilling to pay a premium to get a deal done. If he makes that mistake again, Soto could join Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and others on his growing list of near-misses.