Likelihood of Soto extension? Bichette, Vlad Jr. on the block? Execs weigh in

May 21st, 2024

Hal Steinbrenner raised some eyebrows last week when he said he wanted to see Juan Soto finish his career in pinstripes, so much so that he’s willing to do something the Yankees don’t typically do: Negotiate a contract extension during the season.

How likely is it that the Yankees will be able to lock up Soto prior to this fall, when the slugger is slated to become a free agent for the first time in his career?

“There’s no chance,” an American League executive said. “I think he ultimately signs back with the Yankees, but Scott takes his guys into free agency.”

Scott, of course, is agent Scott Boras, who indeed tends to prefer his players play out their walk year, giving them an opportunity to see what the open market has in store.

Boras recently said that he’s happy to speak with Steinbrenner, and that while Soto is still getting to know the organization, the player’s “singular focus is winning.”

The Yankees are doing plenty of that this season, entering the week in first place in the AL East with a 33-15 record. Soto has played a big part in the team’s early-season success, posting a .311/.411/.552 slash line with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs in 48 games.

“A 25-year-old Juan Soto has to hit free agency regardless of the agent,” the AL exec said. “He’s too good a player having too of a good year.”

Another AL executive pegged the Yankees’ chances of signing Soto before the end of the season at 5%, citing the risk of injury and the potential pressure of a contract year – including his performance in the postseason – as reasons for Soto to listen to New York’s offer.

Of course, any offer the Yankees make would then set the floor for Soto’s free-agent market, giving Soto and Boras a starting point for offseason talks.

“Not many teams that can afford him, so the pool is limited,” the executive said of his potential free agency. “But it’s hard not to wait and see what the Mets are willing to pay.”

“There are teams out there capable of winning that have money,” the first AL executive said. “The Dodgers are out there. The Mets are out there. There aren’t many, but there are places he can land.”

Big two on the block?

It seems inconceivable that the Blue Jays – who have entered the past few seasons with great expectations – could trade either Bo Bichette and/or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., but given Toronto’s 21-25 start and the competitive state of the AL East, one AL executive believes it’s possible the Jays could move one or both of their superstars this summer.

“I don’t think they’re opposed to it,” the executive said. “They’ve talked to teams about it. The asks were ridiculous, but I think they’re going to try to retool a lot, and using those guys to get pieces may be the way to do it.”

Both Bichette and Guerrero are slated to become free agents after the 2025 season, so any acquiring team would have them for the rest of this year and one more full season.

Bichette, an All-Star in 2021 and 2023, is off to a sluggish start, posting a .230/.289/.333 slash line with only two home runs and 16 RBIs in 43 games this season. Guerrero’s .286/.381/.394 slash line is far more respectable, but he’s hit only four homers with 21 RBIs through 45 games.

“Neither of them are off to great starts, but other teams might view them as change-of-scenery guys,” an NL executive said. “Everyone knows what these guys can do, but that roster might just need a change.”

Free agent find

When the Royals signed Seth Lugo (three years, $45 million) and Michael Wacha (two years, $32 million) in December, some viewed it as an overpay by a rebuilding team trying to work its way back into relevance.

Lugo has delivered everything Kansas City could have hoped for, going 7-1 with an American League-leading 1.79 ERA in his first 10 starts. Wacha hasn’t had similar success on the mound, going 3-4 with a 4.71 ERA, but the pair has had a huge impact on the rest of the rotation, which entered the week third in the AL with a 3.07 ERA.

“If you watch any of [the Royals’] starters, when they come out of a game, the four other starters huddle around and break down the game with him,” an AL executive observed. “That’s all Lugo and Wacha. They have created this culture. The way they have changed the culture there is mind-boggling.”

Kansas City has been one of the season’s early surprises, entering the week at 29-19, trailing the first-place Guardians by just 1.5 games in the AL Central.

Lugo’s red-hot start has been crucial for the Royals, though his impact on young starters Brady Singer, Alec Marsh and Cole Ragans has been every bit as important.

“They were banking on a guy who hadn’t started much in his career until age 33; someone finally gave him a chance to start regularly,” the executive said. “His pitching intellect is up there with anybody.”