Following weeks of speculation, the New York Yankees struck the biggest trade of Major League Baseball’s offseason on Wednesday evening, acquiring outfielders Juan Soto and Trent Grisham from the San Diego Padres on Wednesday in exchange for a slew of pitchers.
Soto, a three-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger Award winner who is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, will now join his third team ahead of his age-25 season. He’s slated to make more than $30 million through the arbitration process next year, in what will be his final season of team control before reaching free agency.
We here at CBS Sports are the judgmental kind. As such, below we’ve taken it upon ourselves to render an instant verdict on this trade. Will this analysis age well? Plenty of factors will surely affect that, but let’s take a look at what this move means for the Yankees and Padres in the present.
Here is, once more, the trade in whole:
Now, let’s get to the gasbaggery.
Yankees grade: A
It’s not often you see a player of this caliber moved twice before reaching free agency. Should Soto depart from the Yankees next winter, he could end up playing for four teams over a four-year span. That speaks more to the economics of the situation — the Nationals couldn’t extend him and were no good; the Padres wanted to extend him and are good but had some debt issues — than any real deficiency with him or his game.
Indeed, Soto remains an absolute force at the plate thanks to an elite eye and feel for making loud contact. The Padres may have disappointed at a team level last season, but it wasn’t because of Soto. In 214 games with San Diego between 2022 and 2023, he batted .265/.405/.488 (151 OPS+) with 41 home runs and 125 runs batted in. His contributions were worth an estimated 7.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference’s calculations.
The only qualified batters with a higher on-base percentage than Soto since the start of the 2022 season are Yordan Alvarez, Freddie Freeman, and new teammate Aaron Judge. There are some really good duos out there right now — Alvarez and Jose Altuve; Freeman and Mookie Betts; Ronald Acuña Jr. and Matt Olson; Corey Seager and Marcus Semien; and so on — but the Soto-Judge pairing might end up being the best of the bunch if both stay healthy.
One item of particular intrigue is how Soto takes to Yankee Stadium. It’s fair to write that he’s never played his home games in a more favorable park for left-handed offense. Whereas Yankee Stadium has the second-highest home run park factor among full-time MLB ballparks for lefty hitters over the last three years thanks to its comfy right-field porch, Nationals Park ranks 10th in that respect and Petco checks in at 26th.
It’ll be interesting to see if and how Soto adjusts to Yankee Stadium. He’s not your traditional modern slugger who goes up there looking to lift the ball. His average launch angle last season was 6.3 degrees; the league-average mark was over 12 degrees, indicating that he’s more inclined toward low-flying contact. That hasn’t prevented Soto from averaging more than 30 home runs per 162 games for his career, but you wonder if he might attempt to leverage his strength more now to reflect his home park’s generous dimensions.
Whatever the case, the pieces are in place for Soto to have a mammoth walk year since he’ll be paired with one of the few batters on his level in a great hitting environment.
We’ve noted that Soto isn’t a perfect fit for the Yankees because of his defensive shortcomings. In an ideal world, he’d be transitioning to full-time DH duty sooner than later. The Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton in tow, making it tough to accommodate. Traditionally, teams play their weakest outfield defender in left; we suspect that the Yankees may attempt to hide Soto in their aforementioned small right field.
The Yankees will live with whatever Soto brings to the table defensively to get his bat in the lineup. The easiest way to fix an offense that ranked 25th in runs scored is to add good hitters. It’s hard to do better in that respect than Soto.
Grisham, who has two seasons of team control remaining, could theoretically outlast Soto on the Yankees roster. He’s put together back-to-back underwhelming seasons at the dish, hitting .191/.300/.347 (84 OPS+) with 30 combined home runs and 22 combined stolen bases (on 26 attempts).
There are some positives to be found in Grisham’s game. Foremost, he’s a multi-time Gold Glove Award recipient who continues to grade as an above-average defensive player. There was also some sign of life this year in his underlying batted-ball data. Grisham recorded the highest average exit velocity of his career while hitting the ball on a line more frequently. (He continued to display a good eye, too.)
The Yankees have the outfield depth to leverage Grisham for his glove and wheels, but he has a chance to return to being a solid contributor when the opportunity arises.
We’ll note that the Yankees have lost a lot of pitching depth this week. They traded three arms to the Boston Red Sox for Alex Verdugo; lost three more (at least for the time being) through the Rule 5 Draft; and now send out another stable for Soto. That’s a lot of outgoing talent, but here the ends justify the means.
Padres grade: C
For this trade to make sense for the Padres, you have to operate under the assumption that they truly could not continue to support their spending. If that is the case — and San Diego reportedly took out a loan to help cover payroll costs — then it’s not hard to make the logical connection to A.J. Preller needing but being unable to sign pitching through free agency. Hence trading Soto and Grisham for a grab bag of upper-level arms without landing Chase Hampton, widely (though not unanimously) considered to be the top arm in the Yankees organization.
If you can’t get on board with those assumptions, then this trade is hard to stomach and the grade looks too generous by at least a full mark. Not only did the Padres gut their outfield and weaken their lineup in a significant way, they did so without returning a pitcher who seems likely to both make 25-plus starts for them in 2023 and be an above-average contributor. To some extent, the return was always going to disappoint. Soto is a rental and an expensive one at that, limiting his market to a handful of teams at most. Add in how Soto’s agent is Scott Boras, rendering a pre-market extension highly unlikely, and you have the appropriate conditions for the Yankees to swoop in and add one of the game’s best hitters to their lineup.
What the Padres received in return here is four players who could be part of their Opening Day roster, as well as an interesting young starter who could debut in 2024 and should end up being the best of the group.
King, 28, is already down to his final two seasons of team control despite not yet clearing the 250-inning mark in the majors. He transitioned back to the Yankees rotation late last year, subsequently emerging as a bright spot in the process. The Padres would be within reason to pencil him into their own starting five to begin the season, but his injury history makes it tough to divine if he can withstand a full slate of outings. Keep in mind, last season represented the first time since 2018 that he cleared the century mark. King’s advanced age and service time might cause him and the Padres to decide to let it eat and see what comes of it.
Thorpe, 23, is a former second-round pick who finished last season with five Double-A starts. Overall, he compiled a 2.52 ERA and a 4.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Although Thorpe isn’t a hard thrower by any measure, he gets by thanks to a high-grade changeup and good command. The Padres have shown they’re willing to promote players in an aggressive manner. It would not qualify as a surprise, then, if Thorpe ends up debuting sometime next summer.
Vásquez, 25, also made his big-league debut in 2023. He appeared 11 times, including five starts, and compiled a 2.87 ERA (152 ERA+) and a 1.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has a mid-90s fastball and a breaking ball that has averaged more than 3,000 RPMs.
Brito, 25, appeared in 25 games last season for the big-league club, accumulating a 4.28 ERA (101 ERA+) and a 2.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has a four-pitch arsenal that includes two mid-90s fastballs, a sidespinning changeup that led his repertoire in whiff rate, and a breaking ball.
Both seem like candidates to spend considerable time on San Diego’s staff in 2024, perhaps even beginning the year as part of the starting rotation.
Higashioka, 33, is entering his final season of team control. In parts of seven seasons at the big-league level, he’s batted .210/.253/.394 (76 OPS+) with 40 home runs. His contributions have been worth an estimated 0.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference’s calculations. It is worth noting that Higashioka grades well as a receiver. Statcast’s framing metric had his presentation worth six runs last season. That placed him in the 90th percentile. He figures to serve as San Diego’s backup catcher, depending on their other moves this winter.