The Yankees need to make a play for superstar Juan Soto, and they need to make it as serious a play as possible.
A player as talented as Soto becomes available in a trade once every 50 years or so, and judging by the history of such deals, the acquiring team isn’t the one that has the regrets. It’s a small sample size, I know, but it’s hard to err by acquiring a once-in-a-generation player. The Tigers certainly didn’t look back at whatever they gave up for Miguel Cabrera in 2007, and a few years before that, the Yankees had no misgivings about adding Babe Ruth.
That’s not to say Soto will change the national pastime the way Ruth did, but he’s an all-time talent. The most frequent comparison is Ted Williams, a hitting savant so great he’s viewed as a God in a smallish nation.
The Yankees, of course, have checked in with the Nationals about Soto, but so far there’s no word any names have been exchanged. That may just reflect a methodical process. Or maybe it’s because the Nats see better prospect and young player capital coming from elsewhere. Let’s hope, for the Yankees’ sake, it’s reason number one.
The Yankees should be able to do this deal, if they are willing to give up most of their very top prospects. Early word was that they don’t want to surrender all three of Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza and Jasson Dominguez, plus more, but maybe they need to be less judicious in this one case. They are said to be willing to take on a “bad” Nationals contract if the prospects are right, and that could swing a deal their way.
One advantage to the Yankees keeping their payroll to an affordable $250 million — about $40 million below the spending leaders in Los Angles and crosstown in Queens — is that they are the rare team that could add both Soto’s $17 million and Patrick Corbin’s $23 million — and do it relatively comfortably.
The reasons Soto is so valuable go well beyond his extraordinary talent. He’s also playoff-proven, having helped the Nationals to a World Series win in 2019. And he’s a left-handed hitter, which means he’d be perfect for Yankee Stadium and, like the team’s lone superstar, Aaron Judge, would dominant the home field. He’d also be insurance in case Judge does the almost unthinkable and leaves.
Plus, Soto is just 23, which means he’s in the same age range as anyone’s prospects, and should be productive for another decade plus. Even better, he will be under team control for another three playoff runs, as his agent, Scott Boras, pointed out on The Post podcast “The Show” this week.
I don’t think I have to point out that the Yankees haven’t been to the World Series since winning it all in 2009 (I’m counting the Astros as 2017 champions as most of the rest of America does). While they are a perennial playoff team and their overall record is exemplary, by their own standards, that’s 12 straight seasons of failure.
This Yankees team is great, but has shown a couple of cracks in recent weeks. They needed to augment the bullpen even before set-up star Michael King went down. And they need to replace the out-of-place Joey Gallo. Can you imagine Soto as the Gallo replacement?
Back in the original Steinbrenner years, there’d be no reason to think they need a push. But now, under Steinbrenner II and like-minded general manager Brian Cashman, they actually think about such things before doing them.
They’ve passed on big-ticket item after big-ticket item in recent years, with talented infielders Manny Machado, Corey Seager and Carlos Correa examples. And maybe they were right to do so if it left them the money to do something better. This would be that “something better.”
Soto was supposedly having a “bad year,” but hitting in the middle of an inferior lineup has not stopped him from posting an OPS plus almost exactly his career norm of 160 (right between Mays, 155, and Mantle, 172). And making his tough trip (by big league standards) from Atlanta to the All-Star site in Los Angeles and getting little sleep didn’t deter him from winning the Home Run Derby with a flourish.
While the Yankees have been picky in pursuing the game’s most coveted stars, this is the time to go. While Volpe looks good, that doesn’t mean he’s the next Derek Jeter. Same with Peraza.
They have to hope Nationals GM Mike Rizzo likes their prospects as much as they do. Rizzo is a scout at heart, and a great one. The last time he had something big to sell it seems now he focused on young catcher Keibert Ruiz, and wound up taking him with Josiah Gray in a package for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, who like Soto between them had three pennant runs to go (one for Scherzer, two for Turner).
Perhaps Rizzo is more focused elsewhere. The Cardinals, Mariners, Padres and, of course, the Dodgers are among the financially successful franchises with strong young packages to offer (the Mets are too, but the assumption here is they’d have to drastically overpay to get Soto from a division rival). Maybe one of those other teams has the inside track. No matter, the Yankees need to do whatever they can to make this happen.