The baseball landscape looks dramatically different than it did just 24 hours ago, as superstar outfielder Juan Soto is now officially a member of the New York Yankees. It was an emotional roller coaster that took the better part of a day and seemed at multiple points like it might fall apart due to medical concerns, but in the end Brian Cashman got his man — and gave his team the offensive jolt it desperately needed after a miserable 2023 season.
We’ve gone over the real-world ramifications of this deal from every angle, from the players the Padres got in return to where the Yankees go from here to what this means for New York’s World Series odds in 2024. But what about the fantasy baseball side of things? What does this do for Soto’s fantasy value, both next season and beyond? What sort of numbers can we expect him to put up now that he’ll call Yankee Stadium home (hint: maybe not as different as you think)? And how might it change projections for Aaron Judge and other members of New York’s lineup? Let’s break it all down.
Fantasy outlook after Juan Soto trade
Before we dig deeper into Soto’s fantasy value, let’s establish what a reasonable 2024 season might look like by the numbers. Soto is coming off a monster year with the Padres, one in which he slashed .275/.410/.519 with 35 homers, 97 runs scored, 109 RBI and 12 steals — good enough to land around 15th overall in standard 5x5 leagues, with a bump in leagues that include OBP. How might this change of scenery shift that profile one way or the other?
It’s become conventional wisdom in the aftermath of the trade that Soto — who’s cleared the 30-homer mark just twice in his six-year career — is set for a major power surge in 2024; just one look at the 314 sign down the right-field line at Yankee Stadium is enough for dreams of 40, even 45 homers to start dancing through fans’ and fantasy owners’ heads. And indeed, while the Stadium plays surprisingly neutral for lefties overall (largely thanks to a cavernous right-center gap) the short porch means that it’s among the best parks in the league for left-handed power. But a look under the hood reveals that Soto’s new home might not goose his homer total as much as you might expect. First, here’s his spray chart from 2023:
Soto is one of the game’s great hitters, able to hit the ball hard to all parts of the field — great for the Yankees, but maybe not so great for fantasy owners hoping he’ll turn into a short-porch merchant. The chart above makes it seem like Yankee Stadium’s spacious left field might take away as many homers as right field gives, and his expected home run total bears that out: Per Statcast, just 27 of Soto’s 35 homers in 2023 would’ve been gone in the Bronx.
This isn’t to pour cold water on Soto, in either real life or in fantasy. It’s just to say that I’m not sure this move should change his power projection much at all; Soto will continue to have a swing more geared for line drives than fly balls, and he’ll continue to hit those line drives to every part of the park. In the end, Soto feels like a natural 35-homer hitter — that’s been his full-season pace for basically his whole career thus far — and Yankee Stadium figures to help and hurt in about equal measure.
Soto’s counting stats, however, offer a bit more room for optimism and upside. In San Diego last year, Soto largely hit third, directly behind Ha-Seong Kim and Fernando Tatis Jr. and directly in front of Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts. It’s still too early to know how the Yankees will line up on Opening Day 2024, but the best bet is that DJ LeMahieu will remain Aaron Boone’s go-to leadoff man, with Soto hitting second — and, crucially, Aaron Judge hitting third. No disrespect to Machado and Bogaerts, but Judge is about the best situation imaginable in terms of both runs scored and lineup protection. If Soto runs an OBP north of ,400 once again, he’ll have no trouble cracking the 100-run mark, and he could blow away his 2023 total. The Yankees also figure to have a deeper lineup overall than what San Diego rolled out last season — San Diego routinely had bottoms of the order featuring the likes of Trent Grisham, Rougned Odor and Matt Carpenter, which, yikes — and it’s hard to imagine Soto not driving in well over 100 runs in his new home.
In the end, Soto will be ... well, Juan Soto. He doesn’t seem likely to hit considerably more homers, and he’ll likely steal a couple fewer bases as he hits in front of Judge, but that will be more than offset by a projected bump in both runs scored and RBI.
2024 projections: 114/38/112/.286/10
Where should you draft him?
So, given that projection, where does it make sense to target Soto in drafts? In standard 5x5 leagues, Soto is a slightly better player in real life than in fantasy; power and speed are the names of the fantasy game, and Soto’s upside will always be capped by his relative lack of steals — especially in a year in which the top of the first round will be chock full of players with legitimate 40/40 potential (Ronald Acuña Jr., Julio Rodriguez, Bobby Witt Jr., Corbin Carroll, Kyle Tucker and Fernando Tatis Jr., with Mookie Betts just a hair behind).
But while Soto may not have highest ceiling, he does have an extremely high floor: His underlying skill set is among the most bankable in the game, and you can more or less lock him in as an elite contributor in average, runs and RBI, plus at least 30-35 homers. I’d have him just a tier below those six hitters above, right around similar stars like Judge (more upside, way more injury risk), Trea Turner (speed but unreliable power), Bryce Harper, Yordan Alvarez and DH-only Shohei Ohtani. Any one of those guys would be a justifiable choice at the end of Round 1 or early in Round 2, and which one you choose largely comes down to preference — just make sure that, if you do go for Soto (or Harper or Alvarez or Judge), you try to shore up your speed with your next pick.
Impact on dynasty outlook
For those lucky enough to own Soto in dynasty leagues, I’m not sure this changes too much about his long-term outlook. A Scott Boras client who reportedly turned down a 13-year, $350 million contract extension with the Nationals prior to the 2021 lockout, it would be a massive upset if Soto passed on the chance to hit the free market next winter. Granted, New York will now have a whole season to sell him on sticking around for the long haul, and from a dynasty perspective there are few better places for him to sign his inevitable megadeal — Judge is an ideal pairing in the short term, and the Yankees will always have the resources to surround Soto with impact talent. But that will also probably be true of any other team that could afford to give the 25-year-old the bag, and no matter where he winds up in 2025 and beyond, he has years of elite production ahead of him.
What does this mean for Aaron Judge, others?
Of course, the Yankees’ playoff hopes aren’t the only big winners here. This is also great news for Judge, who far too often had to put New York’s offense on his back last season — it’s really hard to hit 37 homers while driving in just 75 runs. With Soto hitting in front of him, Judge will be coming up with at least one man on base more often than not, and he should be in for a monster year if he can stay healthy (and Anthony Rizzo returns to form behind him). Soto’s arrival does push Judge to center field, and anyone targeting the 32-year-old in drafts next spring will have to factor in the increased injury risk that comes from putting an already relatively fragile player at a more stressful defensive position. But we know that Judge has No. 1 overall player upside, and he has a better chance of unlocking it with Soto in town; the only question now is whether he can stay healthy, and hey, he did manage to hit 37 homers despite playing in just 106 games in 2023.
But beyond Judge, Soto is something of a rising tide that should lift all boats. One name in particular to keep an eye on, however, is second-year shortstop Anthony Volpe. The top prospect scuffled through a tough rookie season, but he looked a bit better as the year wore on, and there’s reason to think the arrivals of both Soto and Verdugo could help him have a breakout season. For starters, Volpe is now safely ensconced at or near the bottom of New York’s lineup, where he’ll see a far steadier diet of fastballs that will hopefully help him improve his plate discipline and cut down on his K rate. Plus, he’ll have the top of the order, including Soto and Judge, waiting to drive him in when he does get on base. Volpe went 20/20 in a year in which just about everything went wrong and he was adjusting on the fly to the Majors. If he improves in year two, look out — especially with Soto around.