Breaking down the 5-player return for Soto

December 7th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Padres were going to trade Juan Soto to the Yankees, they needed a sizable haul in return -- one centered around both short- and long-term pitching depth.

They believe that’s exactly what they got on Wednesday night, as the two teams capped the Nashville Winter Meetings with a blockbuster. Soto is now a Yankee. So, too, is center fielder Trent Grisham. In return, the Padres landed five players from New York -- four right-handers and a catcher.

With only one year remaining before Soto reaches free agency, it’s not quite the level of trade package that San Diego sent to Washington to land Soto in 2022.

But team officials were nonetheless pleased with the return, which gives the Padres the pitching they were looking for -- and a catcher to pair with Luis Campusano for the 2024 season. Here’s what to expect from each of the five newest Padres:

In 49 appearances last season -- nine of them starts -- King posted a 2.75 ERA. He's spent parts of five seasons in the big leagues with a 3.38 mark and more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. He is under team control for the next two seasons.

In New York, King was used primarily as a reliever, but considering the needs on the Padres' staff, he appears bound for the rotation. He'd slot in as a mid-rotation arm, perhaps a No. 3 or 4 starter, behind frontline options Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove.

“Really exciting,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said. “He’s got multiple pitches and weapons. … He was one of the better relievers in the league last year, and honestly, in the last two months of the season, he was one of the top starters. I think we’re going to explore the starting option with him. Sounds like it’s something he’s always wanted to do.”

Brito was a sensible inclusion in a trade like this one. The Yankees had all sorts of pitching depth; the Padres did not.

In his rookie season, Brito posted a 101 ERA+, meaning he was essentially league average last year. The Padres are hoping the 25-year-old with a high-90s fastball can develop into more than that. But even league average would be useful on a pitching staff without many options at the back end of the rotation or in the middle innings.

Enter Brito, who posted a 4.28 ERA in 25 outings (13 starts). He's likely to slot into the Padres' pitching plans as something of a swingman, and he might even be given a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation (though that's dependent upon San Diego's other signings this offseason).

The fit for Higashioka in San Diego is fairly obvious. The Padres think highly of Campusano, and they feel he's ready to take over the starting role behind the plate. But Campusano has missed time with injuries in the past, and he's yet to handle a full-season workload in the big leagues. The Padres didn't want a No. 2 catcher. They wanted a 1B to Campusano's 1A.

The 33-year-old Higashioka is in his final season before free agency. He's a defense-first backstop who has posted a .647 OPS through seven seasons in the big leagues. He'd give the Padres some balance behind the plate and a solid veteran presence if Campusano were to struggle or miss time.

RHP Drew Thorpe (Yankees' No. 5 prospect, MLB No. 99)
Perhaps the most intriguing piece in this trade, Thorpe recently earned Pitching Prospect of the Year at the MiLB Awards Show. Deservedly so. He posted a 2.52 ERA this season between High-A and Double-A, while leading all Minor League pitchers with 182 strikeouts.

Thorpe, scouts say, sports an outstanding changeup and a solid feel for pitching at just 23 years old. The 2023 season was his first year of pro ball, and he moved quickly. Thorpe is a long shot for the Opening Day roster, but it's not unreasonable to think he could help the Padres' rotation at some point next season.

“He’ll come into camp, we’ll have that conversation with him,” Preller said. “… He’s somebody that’s pretty polished with an elite changeup. For us, when we looked at it, we didn’t look at this as three years down the road. I think he’s somebody that could impact us this year.”

RHP (Yankees' No. 13 prospect)
In 11 big league outings as a rookie last season, Vásquez posted a 2.87 ERA. He notched a 4.59 mark across 80 1/3 Minor League innings, showcasing impressive putaway stuff without much control. Vásquez struck out 96 last season in the Minors, but he walked 40.

The fit is similar to Brito's. The Padres desperately need pitching depth of any kind. Vásquez figures to provide it, whether in the rotation or bullpen. He'll compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“With both Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, the attraction for us: shorter role, one inning, they’ve shown their stuff takes a jump and they can go there,” Preller said. “But [they] also have the ability to stretch out and give us starter innings which they did for the Yankees last year.

“That’ll be part of the conversation with what else we’re able to add to the roster in the next few weeks. But they have the ability to do either. They’re really versatile pieces. … That’s going to serve us well for our club this year.”