1:47pm: Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that even after the Yankees’ acquisition of Verdugo, Grisham is still involved in the current iteration of talks between New York and San Diego. He’d be used as a fourth outfielder and late-inning defensive upgrade. His projected $4.9MM salary is a bit steep for that role, particularly when factoring in the associated luxury tax implications, but the Yankees don’t seem too concerned with club payroll at present.
11:20am: The package for Soto is expected to include King and Thorpe, as well as “at least two” other players, per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi, who adds that a deal is indeed close to being finalized.
8:42am: Talks between the Yankees and Padres regarding star outfielder Juan Soto have continued throughout the night, it seems, and the Yankees have “intensified” their efforts to pry Soto away from San Diego, Jack Curry of the YES Network reports. Curry calls a trade “likely,” noting that pitchers Michael King and Drew Thorpe could both be in play. Jon Heyman of the New York Post adds that in addition to Thorpe and King, each of Clarke Schmidt, Chase Hampton, Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez have all been discussed. Certainly, the Yankees won’t be sending that whole slate of arms, but there’d likely be more to the package than Thorpe and King alone.
A trade sending Soto to the Bronx has been viewed as a possibility for much of the offseason, given the superstar slugger’s projected $33MM salary (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz), the Padres’ reported need to scale back payroll (while still adding to a perilously thin rotation mix) and the Yankees’ desire for aggressive and broad-reaching changes on the heels of a disappointing season. Prior reporting on the talks between the two parties have been hung up on the Padres insisting on the inclusion of MLB rotation pieces, most notably including King. That Curry mentions King and Thorpe as possibilities to be included in this deal seems to represent an acquiescence of sorts from the Yanks.
If a deal is indeed completed, Soto would be the second outfielder acquired by the Yankees in as many days. New York pulled of an extraordinarily rare swap of note with their archrivals in Boston last night, landing fellow corner outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Red Sox in exchange for a three-player package. Soto and Verdugo would join Aaron Judge in the outfield, resulting in a major overhaul of a group that was a weak point in the Bronx throughout the 2023 season.
Even with Judge in the fold, Yankees outfielders combined for a dreadful .220/.293/.399 batting line last season. The resulting 90 wRC+ suggests that Yankees outfielders were about 10% below average at the plate even with the 2022 AL MVP’s production included. Subtracting Judge from the equation, Yankees outfielders combined to post a catastrophic .214/.247/.365 batting line on the season.
A Verdugo-Judge-Soto outfield would be far more productive and also substantially reduce the Yankees’ strikeout woes; Verdugo fanned at just a 15.4% rate in 2023, while Soto wasn’t much higher at 18.2%. Both Soto and Verdugo are one-year solutions in the outfield, as both are set to become free agents following the 2024 campaign.
Presumably, the Yankees would deploy Judge in center field regularly for the upcoming season, with Verdugo in left field and Soto in right. The Padres and Yankees had previously discussed including San Diego center fielder Trent Grisham in a Soto package, but Heyman tweets that following the acquisition of Verdugo, Grisham is no longer likely to be a part of talks with the Friars. While manager Aaron Boone can’t formally comment on any potential acquisition of Soto, he did acknowledge to The Athletic’s Brendan Kuty and other reporters just now that the Yankees would be comfortable with Judge playing center field every day this coming season.
Roster Resource already projects the Yankees for a payroll north of $245MM and more than $256MM worth of luxury tax obligations. Soto would push those numbers to around $278MM and $289MM, respectively. The Yankees are already effectively at the second luxury-tax threshold, meaning the penalties they face for incorporating Soto’s salary into the fold will be steeper. As a team paying the luxury tax for a third straight season, they’d pay a 62% tax for exceeding by $20-40MM and a hefty 95% surcharge on the next $20MM spent. With regard to Soto, that’d equate to about $24.5MM of penalties on top of his projected $33MM salary.
Of course, further changes could impact that payroll and roster outlook. The Yankees have been prominently linked to star NPB right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto and are viewed as one of the favorites to land him. Even failing that, the Yankees could need to look for outside help in the rotation — particularly if King and/or Schmidt is indeed part of the swap that ultimately nets them Soto. Adding Soto and making a subsequent addition of any real note to the rotation (barring the acquisition of a pre-arbitration arm to plug into the mix) would push the Yankees into the newly created fourth tier of luxury penalization — often referred to as the “Steve Cohen tax” in reference to the crosstown owner of the Mets.