A look at Yanks' top 3 Winter Meetings targets

December 4th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the Winter Meetings concluded a year ago this week, a bleary-eyed but pleased Brian Cashman sat alongside manager Aaron Boone in a San Diego conference room, with the Yankees general manager apologizing as his wrap-up commentary repeatedly wandered into non sequiturs.

He hadn’t slept a wink, having spent the previous evening hammering out the details of a nine-year, $360 million contract with Aaron Judge’s agent, taking the ball after Judge and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner negotiated the terms of that deal in a late-night, international phone call that concluded with Judge being handed the title of team captain.

Cashman shouldn’t expect to get much rest this week, either, as baseball’s Winter Meetings fill the atriums and pathways of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. Amidst the light shows and piped-in Christmas music, Cashman and his baseball operations staff will be working overtime to bring in a holiday haul.

Most prominently, Cashman has said that he needs both a center fielder and a left fielder, ones who are “preferably left-handed.” Cashman added that he is “always looking to try to reinforce our pitching” and noted that the club has “an infield surplus” as they consider opening a lane for Oswald Peraza to play regularly -- perhaps by dealing Gleyber Torres, who is in his final year under contract.

Here are three of the most prominent names the Yankees are being connected to:

Juan Soto, OF, Padres
2023 stats: .275/.410/.519, 35 HRs, 109 RBIs, 158 OPS+

The latest: Talks between the Yankees and Padres reportedly snagged late last week after San Diego requested a multiplayer deal centered around right-handers Michael King and Drew Thorpe in exchange for Soto and outfielder Trent Grisham. Right-handers Clarke Schmidt, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez have also been mentioned as possible inclusions.

Thus far, the Yankees have considered the Padres’ asking price too high for a rental of the 25-year-old Soto, who is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season. However, there’s little debate that Soto would offer an immediate boost to a Yankees offense that lacked punch last season. Discussions could resume this week during the Winter Meetings.

Cody Bellinger, CF/1B, free agent
2023 stats: .307/.356/.525, 26 HRs, 97 RBIs, 133 OPS+

The latest: Bellinger remains high on the Yankees’ wish list, though their early focus has seemed to be on Soto. The Giants are also known to be interested in Bellinger, who enjoyed a bounce-back campaign with the Cubs this past year after being non-tendered by the Dodgers.

Bellinger has a New York connection; his father, Clay, played three seasons for the Yanks from 1999-2001. Despite Bellinger’s productive 2023 season, there is some concern about how a long-term contract might age: his 31.4% hard-hit rate ranked only in the 10th percentile among qualified big leaguers, per Statcast.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, RHP, international free agent
2023 stats (Japan): 16-6, 1.21 ERA, 164 IP, 117 H, 28 BB, 169 K

The latest: Yamamoto has been called the Pedro Martinez of Japan, a talent whom the Yanks have been scouting for more than a year, including an international trip this past September in which Cashman watched the hurler toss a no-hitter for his Orix Buffaloes.

Both the Mets and Yankees are known to be interested in the 25-year-old, who is a three-time Sawamura Award winner (Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award) and could land a contract exceeding $200 million -- not including a posting fee to be paid to Yamamoto’s former club.