Yanks aim to 'make the most' of Soto's walk year

February 16th, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- As the Yankees wait for to suit up for his first swings in pinstripes, they are also preparing for the possibility that there is an expiration date on the superstar’s stay in the Bronx, expecting that he will reach the free-agent market after the season.

Thus, they plan to roll out the red carpet each and every day for the 25-year-old outfielder, creating a season-long test drive for what a lengthy future in the Bronx could look like.

“We recognized when we went into this situation that the odds are that it’s a one-year situation before free agency,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi. “Certainly, that can change, I guess, but the odds are certainly against that. He’s this close to free agency. I don’t see too many things stopping him from hitting free agency.

“So we’re just looking to see if we collectively can crush it together, have an amazing walk year and [have] him put up the numbers he’s capable of putting up with the cast of characters that we’re going to surround him with. See if we all can have a good time and then have a conversation thereafter.”

The Yankees acquired Soto from the Padres during the MLB Winter Meetings in early December, sending a five-player package to San Diego: pitchers Jhony Brito, Michael King, Drew Thorpe and Randy Vásquez, plus catcher Kyle Higashioka, in exchange for Soto and outfielder Trent Grisham.

A three-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Soto is with his third organization, a rarity for a player who has garnered statistical comparisons to Ted Williams and is thought to be on a Hall of Fame track.

The Nationals dealt Soto in August 2022 after their reported 15-year, $440 million contract extension offer was rejected, and San Diego was unable to gain traction in any efforts to reach an extension with Soto and his agent, Scott Boras.

In a December Zoom conference, Soto said that he plans to leave any negotiations to Boras, calling him “one of the best agents in the league” and noting, “I’ll put everything on him and let him do his magic.”

Soto will earn $31 million this season after avoiding salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year pact with the Yankees. That makes him the fourth-highest-paid player on the roster, behind Aaron Judge ($40 million), Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and Giancarlo Stanton ($32 million).

Cashman said that he does not expect any extension talks to transpire before the end of the season, noting that he also has not engaged with infielder Gleyber Torres about a new deal.

“He’s our second baseman for this year, and I haven’t had any conversations about anything past that,” Cashman said of Torres.

Soto is one of several potential free agents on the ’24 Yankees, along with Torres, outfielder Alex Verdugo, closer Clay Holmes and reliever Tommy Kahnle.

“We went into this [Soto trade] recognizing it’s most likely a one-year [situation], and it didn’t scare us off,” Cashman said. “I think other teams looked at it like, ‘I don’t want to give up much for a guy for one.’ We’re like, ‘We’re going to secure the one and worry about the others at another time.’”

Cashman suggested that Soto’s experiences over the next several months could play a factor in the club’s ability to extend or re-sign him, noting, “[If] he seems to really love it, maybe we’ll create that atmosphere where that door can get knocked on.”

Regardless, Cashman said that the left-right combo of Soto and Judge at the top of the lineup promises to make the Yankees an offensive force to be reckoned with.

“Despite knowing that the realistic option is probably free agency, regardless, we’re excited to have him,” Cashman said. “It’s very rare to get a chance to have a player of this caliber on your club, and so we’ve got him. He’s a New York Yankee, and we’re going to make the most of that time with him as a player.”