LOS ANGELES — Put yourself in the room. See both sides. Because this is what the Yankees will have to do. This is what Brian Cashman will have to orchestrate. What Hal Steinbrenner will have to ultimately mull and decide.
This is not an easy decision, after all, just how far to go to try to land Juan Soto. When it comes to common sense — what it will cost in prospects, future value of those prospects and dollars to have Soto for his control period and perhaps long into the future — recommending such a deal is borderline reckless.
But there are times to be reckless. Soto is the toughest out in the game. He has shown no flinch in the biggest moments. He is just 23. He is under team control, if acquired now, for three pennant races. And players like him — his skill, youth and control — are the Halley’s Comet of the trade market.
This is my view of the 10 best position players traded in the past five years (based on perception of the player at the time of the deal): Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado, Matt Olson, J.T. Realmuto, Giancarlo Stanton, Trea Turner and Christian Yelich (Starling Marte was traded twice in this span and arguably belongs in the top 10).
None were as young as Soto. Arenado and Stanton had expensive long-term contracts tied to them. Betts, Goldschmidt, Lindor and Machado were entering or in their walk years. Olson, Realmuto and Turner had two or fewer years of control. Yelich had four years plus an option of control on a team-friendly contract, but was not yet viewed as elite (he was a zero-time All-Star, for example, at the time of the deal).
So consider the return for these players and understand for Soto, you are going to bleed more. Or, as one top AL executive said, “If you tell [the Nationals] that you are taking your best prospect off the table, they should tell you to go [bleep] yourself and hang up.”
Now let’s return to the Yankees. Unless the Nationals rank the Yankees’ system differently, Anthony Volpe is going to have to be one of probably four or five painful pieces to move. Can you tolerate that? The Yankees have not talked about the skill/makeup combination in a prospect the way they do Volpe since perhaps Derek Jeter.
But championships are forever, and Soto increases the Yankees’ chances of winning a title enough in the 2022-24 window to make what they give up (no matter how painful) worth it. However, at least let’s go into that room for the pro/con game that Steinbrenner, Cashman and the Yankees’ brass will have to play in deciding how far to go in an offer for Soto:
The Yankees have traded a lot of prospect capital over the past 24 months — notably for Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo and Jameson Taillon. They still have a strong system, but a Soto deal would eradicate the top of it. They ignored the shortstop free-agent market, in part, because they believed Volpe and/or Oswald Peraza would step in by 2023. At least one, maybe both, have to go here.
In all, one non-Yankees executive calculated that roughly $150 million in projected future value would have to go to the Nats, before paying the $65 million-ish Soto will earn from here to just free agency.
Plus, the Yankees went into the break averaging the majors’ most runs scored and fewest allowed while also leading in defensive efficiency. Baseball Reference gave the Yankees a 30.3 percent chance to win the World Series (the Dodgers were second at 22.8 percent).
With a team this good, the Yankees should augment plus subtract Joey Gallo rather than strip the system.
Projection systems are fickle. Fangraphs actually has the Dodgers with the best World Series-winning percentage (16.9) followed by the Yankees (14.3), Mets (14.2) and Astros (14.1). Soto is an odds-changer, and the Yanks have to consider the fact that if they don’t get him then the Dodgers or Mariners or Cardinals or someone who they could see down the line will.
Matt Carpenter got four pinch-hit plate appearances against the Astros. It behooves the Yanks to start him in the doubleheader just to see if his lefty bat makes a difference. It is possible, after all, the Yanks have added the most impactful lefty bat any team will this year. But that is running quite the risk that Carpenter does not turn back into a pumpkin. Soto has a zero pumpkin factor.
The Yanks open the second half with a doubleheader at Houston. They should assume the road to the World Series goes through there, and their offense has been shut down by the Astros rotation this year even while splitting four games in New York and losing one at Minute Maid Park. The Yanks hit .093 versus Houston starters in those five games.
As Gerrit Cole pointed out on Monday, his 2019 Astros never did figure out how to pitch to Soto throughout a seven-game World Series loss to Washington in which Soto hit .333 with three homers and a 1.178 OPS. In the best of all worlds, force opponents to deal with Carpenter and Soto, plus Aaron Judge and Stanton and DJ LeMahieu, etc.
The Dodgers — the West Coast Yankees — hardly care about overkill. Even while elite they have traded for Betts, Machado, Turner, Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish, and signed Freddie Freeman. Their farm system has nevertheless remained strong. The job of the Yankees is to keep finding quality players to use however necessary — Volpe was the 30th pick in a draft, Judge the 32nd. Peraza was signed for $175,000 out of Venezuela. Go find more and remember any loss of prospects can be survived — heck, the Dodgers traded Yordan Alvarez for Josh Fields and have not stopped being the NL team to beat for years.
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo is a scout at heart, and this decision may come down to who he has been infatuated with for years. The perception by many executives is that he fixated on the Dodgers in trading Scherzer and Turner last trade deadline because catcher Keibert Ruiz was by far his No. 1 target. Does he feel that way about Volpe or anyone in the Yankees’ system?
If so, the Yankees — as painful as that might be — have to do it. In the short term, it would pair Soto with Judge. It also gives protection if Judge leaves in free agency after the season. If Judge is retained long term, the Yanks can play out Soto through 2024 and see how they financially feel afterward whether to trade him or not (the Yankees, for example, will be obligated to just three years at $66 million for Stanton at that point, making it more palatable to pair another large long-term deal with Cole and Judge).
The pro/con game is not one-sided. But the Yanks have not won a World Series since 2009. Soto impacts their chances to end that drought significantly enough over the next three years that the people in that Yankee room should cast a pro vote for acquiring him.
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