Pinstriped contract year could be epic for both Soto and Yankees

February 21st, 2024

The Yankees have made past big trades like the one they made this winter for . There was the one they made 20 years ago, Presidents’ Day Weekend in 2004, for . They got him from the Rangers right after he had hit 47 homers in Texas. He was 28 at the time, and everybody thought he was going to win multiple World Series with the Yankees playing alongside Derek Jeter. He won one, five years later.

Then came the trade with the Marlins for ahead of the 2018 season. Stanton was also 28, and was coming off a season when he had hit 59 home runs in Miami. Stanton now has played six seasons with the Yankees and has yet to see the World Series.

Now the stakes are just as high with Soto, whose move to the Yankees may be as significant by the end of the season as Shohei Ohtani joining the Dodgers as a free agent. When the Yankees traded for A-Rod, they had just lost a World Series to the Marlins. When they got Stanton, they had just made it to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series before losing to the Astros.

But there is far more urgency with Soto than there was with the other two. The Yankees didn’t just miss the postseason in 2023 -- they finished 19 games behind the Orioles in the AL East. This was after having finished 16 games ahead of the Orioles in ’22. That is a 35-game swing, and is precisely why the Yankees went hard after Soto, who at 25 is a few years younger than Rodriguez and Stanton were when they were the ones putting on a Yankee uniform for the first time.

Soto checks every conceivable box for the Yankees. They needed to get younger in their everyday lineup. They needed left-handed power at Yankee Stadium. And, just as importantly, they needed someone who could stay on the field. Aaron Judge missed 56 games last season. Stanton missed 61. Anthony Rizzo missed 63. Soto? He played all 162 for the Padres. Another reason why the Yankees were willing to trade so much young pitching to get him.

In the process, they set up a situation even more dramatic and more compelling than A-Rod’s, or Stanton’s, when they were the ones coming to New York, because both were in the midst of lucrative, long-term contracts when the Yankees got them. Soto, set to become a free agent for the first time when the ’24 season ends, is in New York on what’s essentially a one-year contract. It is why the Yankees are auditioning as much for Juan Soto as he is auditioning for them.

The clock really started running on all of this when Soto reported to the Yankees’ Spring Training home in Tampa, Fla., the other day.

“For me, I’m just focusing on ’24,” No. 22 of the Yankees said. “I’m here to play baseball. I’m focusing on playing this year and trying to win as much as we can and bring a championship to New York.”

Soto also said this, while wearing a T-shirt that read, “The Generational Juan Soto”:

“We gotta get to know the Yankees organization and the city and how it is playing in New York, to see and make a decision there,” he said.

Juan Soto takes batting practice at Yankees camp in Tampa, Fla. (Yankees)

The Yankees didn’t just bring him to New York to win, they brought him to New York to win their first World Series since 2009, when they were led to a title by Rodriguez. Soto is there to win, for sure, but also to land a contract when the season is over, by the Yankees or somebody else, maybe even Steve Cohen’s Mets, who have money to burn.

It was 10 years ago that Stanton signed his $325 million contract with the Marlins, one that still has four more years left on it. Judge is about to start the second season of the $360 million contract he signed after hitting those 62 home runs for the Yankees in 2022. Knowing the kind of generational talent that Soto really has been so far in his career, knowing his age, and knowing that Scott Boras is his agent, Soto is likely going to be looking for more money than that next fall.

And if he does have a big season in his first year in New York, if the Yankees do end a World Series drought that now feels like an Ice Age to Yankees fans, there is no telling what he might command.

“We have everything we need,” Soto said upon arriving in Tampa.

We know all about how great players managed to step it up in their walk years. Judge placed a massive bet on himself when he didn’t sign a new contract before hitting his 62, and we know how that worked out for him. Now it is Soto -- and the Yankees -- whose success is very much on the line in the Bronx.