Soto 'more than excited' to be a Yankee. But for how long?

Slugger talks goals and future with new team in introductory press conference

December 12th, 2023

NEW YORK -- leaned back in his chair, creasing the bill of a fresh Yankees cap, and a broad grin spilled across the face of one of baseball’s premier sluggers.

Yes, this sure could be an excellent fit.

“It’s just great,” Soto said. “I’m more than excited to be here in the spot that I am, to see this organization and try to be part of it for the next season. I’m really excited to join the team.”

The Yankees formally introduced Soto on Tuesday in a Zoom video conference, six days after acquiring the 25-year-old star from the Padres in a seven-player deal.

New York also acquired outfielder Trent Grisham in exchange for right-handers Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez and Drew Thorpe and catcher Kyle Higashioka.

Soto, who spoke from Miami, said he is excited about the opportunity to put on his pinstriped No. 22 jersey. He has heard from new teammates Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres.

“My priorities right now are just getting to know the guys, really,” Soto said. “I’ll try to get a good relationship and really stick together, get to know those guys and try to get to the same goal [from] Day 1. That’s what my main thing is right now.”

With Soto set to reach free agency after the 2024 season, a campaign in which he is projected to earn $33 million according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, talk of the future figures to dominate the conversation around him.

“About any contract stuff, they know where to call and who to talk to,” Soto said.

Since agent Scott Boras typically directs clients in similar positions to reach the open market, general manager Brian Cashman recently said that the Yankees understand that Soto has no guarantees of remaining in the Bronx beyond 2024.

“We understand that he’s a free agent at the end of this term, and we understand that it’s a possible short-term situation,” Cashman said. “I know he’s just going to make our team significantly better.”

Soto’s addition immediately bolsters a Bombers lineup that ranked 25th in the Majors in runs scored last season, adding a patient and powerful left-handed presence alongside Judge and Alex Verdugo in the outfield.

With manager Aaron Boone stating that he sees Judge taking over again in center field, Verdugo appears slotted in left field, with Soto to play his home games in right.

“Whatever they need from me, I’m going to be there,” Soto said. “I’m going to be positive to do it. Whatever spot they need me, I’m going to be ready. Whatever spot in the lineup, whatever position they want me to play, I’m going to be right there.”

Soto said he was playing video games when San Diego general manager A.J. Preller notified him that the trade was complete.

It marked the second time Soto has been traded in his young career, which is virtually unprecedented for a player of his caliber. He was dealt from the Nationals to the Padres in 2022 after turning down a reported 15-year, $440 million extension.

Though Soto posted just a .778 OPS in 52 games for the Padres in 2022, he rebounded this past season, compiling a .275/.410/.519 slash line (158 OPS+) with 35 home runs and 109 RBIs while leading the Majors with 132 walks and playing in all 162 games.

Soto said that he won’t change his swing to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s inviting right-field porch, where he has enjoyed success already. In seven career games there, Soto has gone 6-for-23 (.261) with one double, four home runs and nine RBIs.

“We all know there’s a really short porch there, and it’s got to be on your mind,” Soto said. “But definitely, I’m going to try to stay in the same approach I’ve been doing. That’s what has taken me all the way to where I am right now, so there’s no reason to change anything.”

As Boras said last week: “When you’re Juan Soto, you kind of show up and every ballpark’s a favorite.”

Soto added that he is looking forward to performing in front of the city’s sizable Dominican population, including numerous family members and friends.

“It’s definitely just a great vibe, a great feeling to be playing in New York and in that stadium,” Soto said. “The fans and the crowd are just incredible. Even when they weren’t cheering for me -- they were booing me and everything -- I really enjoyed my time there. It was pretty cool for me, and it was a great experience.”