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Where Juan Soto ranks among the Yankees’ best trade acquisitions ever

Any list with Babe Ruth and Roger Clemens on it is a tough list to crack.

Juan Soto of the San Diego Padres points skyward after hitting a solo home run during the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park on September 2, 2023 in San Diego, California. Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

One of Major League Baseball’s biggest and brightest young — somehow, he’s still only 25 — superstars is officially headed to the Bronx, as the Yankees managed to land Juan Soto in a blockbuster deal with the Padres that took nearly a full day to be made official. It’s hard to overstate the impact that the Soto deal will have moving forward, both on the Yankees and the league at large; this is arguably the best pure hitter in the sport, just entering his prime, headed to one of the sport’s marquee franchises — a franchise that found itself at a crossroads this winter, and one that will undoubtedly have eyes on keeping Soto around well beyond the end of his current deal next winter.

But that begs the question: Where does this move rank among the many significant trades in the Yankees’ long and storied history? Set free agency aside; no Reggie Jackson or Gerrit Cole, Dave Winfield or Aaron Judge. We’re looking for where Soto falls among the biggest names for whom the Yankees have ever traded, names that rank among the most iconic to ever play the game. Our top 10 is below, but feel free to provide your own. (Note: This isn’t a ranking of how good the players were once they got to New York, but rather how big a deal the acquisition was at the time it was made.)

Best trade acquisitions in Yankees history

Honorable mentions:

Red Ruffing, SP; Sparky Lyle, SP; Roger Maris, OF; Bobby Abreu, OF; Curtis Granderson, OF

10. David Justice, OF

Justice is among the more underappreciated players of his generation. When the Yankees traded for Justice in June 2000 (sending Zach Day, Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook to Cleveland), he was already a three-time All-Star with two top-five MVP finishes and 77 games of postseason experience — including a World Series title with the 1995 Braves. At age 34, he was on the downslope of his career, but he was still a very big name. And it wouldn’t take him long to etch that name in Yankees lore:

9. Tino Martinez, 1B

The Yankees entered the 1996 season fresh off their first postseason appearance in more than a decade, but with a major hole to fill at first base following the retirement of franchise legend Don Mattingly. The solution? An All-Star from Seattle named Tino Martinez, who had just hit .293 with 35 doubles, 31 homers and 111 RBI the year prior. New Yorksent Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock to the Mariners to get their man, and Martinez would go on to become among the most beloved members of New York’s late-90s dynasty.

8. Bobby Abreu, OF

Yankees fans don’t remember the Abreu era too fondly; his time with the club wound up being pretty forgettable, both because of his good-not-great production and because it happened to coincide with some underwhelming postseason exits. But this is supposed to be a reflection of how big a trade was at the time — and at the time, landing Abreu was huge. This was a two-time All-Star who had hit .303/.416/.513 in his nine years with the Phillies, and at age 32 he seemed to have plenty left in the tank when the Yankees traded C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith for he and Cory Lidle on July 30, 2006. He was more solid than star upon the move to New York, although he hardly deserves all the blame for those mid-00s rosters.

7. David Cone, SP

There was so much fanfare around the Yankees landing Cone in the summer of 1995 that he spawned his own fan group, who dubbed themselves “the Coneheads”. It’s not hard to see why: This was an ace traded while still in his prime, a three-time All-Star fresh off a World Series win with the Blue Jays and the 1994 Cy Young Award. Cone didn’t just live up to those lofty expectations; he arguably exceeded them, posting a 3.23 ERA over 102 starts from 1996-1999 and developing a reputation as an absolute bulldog on the mound. He came up big when it mattered, too, like when he delivered six strong innings in a must-win Game 3 of the 1996 World Series against the powerhouse Braves.

6. Rickey Henderson, OF

You could rattle off the stats: In his first six seasons, Henderson led the Majors in steals three times, setting the single-season record with 130 thefts in 1982; he was a four-time All-Star and an MVP runner-up, a .292 hitter with a .400 on-base percentage. But really, all that you need to know is that this was Rickey freaking Henderson, one of the great stars in all of American sport at the time New York acquired him in December of 1984. Henderson’s arrival happened to coincide with one of the darker periods in franchise history, but that was hardly his fault, as he slashed .293/.396/.467 and led the AL in steals three times in his four full seasons with the team.

5. Giancarlo Stanton, OF

Okay, before you all start yelling at me, try to cast your mind back to the winter of 2017. The Big Bang Theory was still around. The Last Jedi topped the box office, then promptly drove the entire internet insane. And Stanton was coming off an age-27 season in which he won NL MVP, made the All-Star team for the fourth time and launched 59 homers while slugging .631. He’d already hit 267 home runs across his first 986 MLB games. This wasn’t just a star; this was the premier slugger in all of baseball, smack in his prime, acquired for the low, low price of Starlin Castro, Jose Devers and Jorge Guzman. Things have largely gone sideways since — largely because Stanton has had a hard time staying on the field — but it’s hard to overstate how big a deal this was when it went down.

4. Juan Soto, OF

Of course, it still wasn’t quite as big a deal as Soto. While Stanton was among the game’s most feared hitters, he was still acknowledged to be a somewhat flawed player, one who came with a bit of injury risk as well. Soto, meanwhile, is arguably the most complete hitter in the sport, one who projects to keep on raking — and who, at age 25, might still have another gear left to find. He’s a below-average outfield defender, but he’s done nothing but stay on the field and hit line drives since entering the league as a teenager back in 2018. If New York can find a way to lock him up long-term, he doesn’t come with nearly the downside risk that Stanton had even at the time of the deal.

3. Roger Clemens, SP

This is no slight on Soto — really, for most other franchises, this would be No. 1 with a bullet. Clemens was already a living legend when the Yankees acquired him from the Blue Jays in February of 1999, with five Cy Youngs, six ERA titles and an MVP award to his name over 15 years of dominance. He wasn’t just a star; he belonged on the pitching version of Mount Rushmore. And even entering his age-36 season, Rocket showed no signs of slowing down: He’d just posted an AL-leading 2.65 ERA and 10.4 K/9 in 1998, after all.

Clemens wasn’t nearly the same pitcher with New York, with a far more pedestrian 3.85 ERA over four years in the Bronx, but he still had his moments — especially in the postseason.

2. Alex Rodriguez, SS/3B

Again, go back to the time of the deal. When the Yankees traded for A-Rod, he wasn’t just on a Hall of Fame path — many serious observers thought he was on his way to becoming the greatest baseball player to ever live. He won MVP honors in his last year with the Rangers and had led the league in homers for three straight years. His average season over the previous six: .305/.388/.599, 47 homers, 127 RBI, 125 runs, all from an elite-level defensive shortstop who also stole plenty of bases. He was the epitome of the modern baseball player, a guy who could quite literally do it all, and the Yankees managed to nab him for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later (Joaquin Arias, eventually). The “Evil Empire,” indeed.

1. Babe Ruth, OF/SP

No players were sent from New York to Boston in the deal that brought Ruth to town and changed the course of baseball history, but the Yankees did send the Red Sox $100,000 — making this technically a trade, and making Ruth eligible for this list.

It’s hard to really wrap our heads around Ruth both as an athlete and as a celebrity. He was something the game, and American sports, hadn’t seen before. The Red Sox ruled the league and set attendance records due almost entirely to Ruth, a two-way star who won an ERA title in 1916 and then led the Majors in homers in 1918 despite only 317 at-bats. A year later, as he shifted primarily to hitting, he set a new big-league record with 29 home runs; no one in the AL had ever hit more than 16.

His star actually grew with the Yankees, yes, but he was already, by far, the biggest draw in all of sports. The Soto deal isn’t a Richter-shattering earthquake like that, but it’s certainly one of the five biggest trades in the history of the Yankees. In and of itself, it’s quite a tremor.