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Winter Meetings rumors: Yankees closing in on Juan Soto; finalists for Shohei Ohtani

We’ve got all the latest Hot Stove rumors from around the Majors on Wednesday, including the Yankees ramping up their pursuit of Juan Soto and finalists emerging in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

Juan Soto of the San Diego Padres in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on May 27, 2023 in Bronx, New York. The Yankees defeated the Padres 3-2 in ten innings. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

We’ve arrived at the final day of the 2023 MLB Winter Meetings, and although we’ve had just a couple major trades so far, there are signs that the Hot Stove is beginning to get toasty. We’re here to keep you up to date on all the things you need to know, from the Yankees nearing a deal for Juan Soto to finalists emerging for Shohei Ohtani. (As a reminder, here are our top 25 free agents as well as the 10 most interesting trade candidates this winter.)

MLB Hot Stove rumors: Wednesday, Dec. 6

Yankees ramping up pursuit of Soto

The Yankees landed Alex Verdugo in a rare trade with the rival Red Sox on Tuesday night, but that hasn’t slowed down their pursuit of a far higher-profile lefty-hitting outfielder. If anything, getting the Verdugo deal done appears to have amped up Brian Cashman’s pursuit of Soto — he called the 25-year-old a “transformational bat” during his media appearance in Nashville on Tuesday afternoon — and it sounds like a move could be imminent:

None of the three pitchers sent to Boston for Verdugo were among New York’s best, meaning they still have plenty of ammo with which to entice Padres GM A.J. Preller — notably Major Leaguers Clarke Schmidt and Michael King and Minor Leaguers Drew Thorpe, Chase Hampton and Will Warren. They also can fit Verdugo and Soto into the same lineup by shifting Aaron Judge to center field, though Judge is 32 and coming off a serious toe injury.

After finishing 25th in the league in runs scored in 2023, this Yankees offense needs more than just Soto to get the team back to the postseason; earlier this winter, Cashman pledged to add not just one but multiple outfield bats. Verdugo fits snugly within that plan, and he only affects the talks for Soto in so far as it likely precludes San Diego from including center fielder Trent Grisham in a potential deal.

Ohtani down to final four?

Much of the market is still waiting on Shohei Ohtani to make his decision, and while nothing appears imminent, we are getting a better idea of which teams are actually in the running to land baseball’s most highly-prized free agent. A report from USA Today on Tuesday suggested that the Cubs were no longer optimistic about their chances to land Ohtani — though Cubs president Jed Hoyer has pushed back on that assertion — which leaves four teams as likely finalists: the Dodgers, Giants, Blue Jays and, yes, the Angels.

We know that Ohtani has conducted visits with the first three teams on that list, and the Angels remain a viable option despite their inability to build a contender around Ohtani over the last half-decade or so — familiarity is a hell of a drug, and Ohtani seems comfortable with his routine in Anaheim. At this point, it seems like Ohtani knows all that he needs to know in order to make a decision; now it’s just a matter of how long it’ll take him to make up his mind.

Could Yamamoto crack $300 million?

We knew that Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto would be among the most in-demand players on this winter’s free-agent market given his age (25) and ace upside, but his market continues to hit stratospheric heights. According to Jon Heyman, several executives around the league believe that the righty could command a deal north of $300 million when the posting fee — basically, the money a team has to pay for the right to sign Yamamoto away from his Japanese club — is taken into account. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: Given MLB’s free-agent structure, it’s rare for a player to become available as he’s just entering his prime, much less one with stuff as elite as Yamamoto’s.

Orioles closing in on Kimbrel

With All-Star closer Felix Bautista on the shelf for all of 2024 as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, Baltimore GM Mike Elias entered the Winter Meetings looking to add at least one high-leverage reliever. And it appears that he’s got his man: former Phillies closer Craig Kimbrel, whom Joel Sherman reports is close to signing a deal with the Orioles. Kimbrel was an All-Star in 2023, posting 23 saves with a 3.26 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 71 games. But he’s also about to be 36, with a track record of volatility — including this past postseason, when he melted down in Philly’s NLCS loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Still, there weren’t a ton of proven ninth-inning options available this winter, and Baltimore likely isn’t done adding depth to its bullpen.