With Soto Trade, Yankees Flex Financial Might, Change Perception

Pat Pickens
Last Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Yankees fans have grown impatient with owner Hal Steinbrenner.

There is a perception among the undoubtedly spoiled fanbase that New York’s second-generation owner is not as committed to winning as his championship-obsessed dad. Hal has been booed and jeered by Yankees fans at public appearances for his unwillingness to flex the club’s financial muscle as George so often did.

But whatever the case, Steinbrenner shut up his critics by okaying the acquisition of All-Star outfielder Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres in a blockbuster trade that was consummated Wednesday night.

Soto is projected to earn $33 million this season in his final year of salary arbitration. The 25-year-old will be a free agent after the 2024 campaign and has already turned down a reported 14-year, $400-plus million contract offer from the Washington Nationals, his team prior to San Diego.

Soto’s arbitration ruling is likely to exceed that of Shohei Ohtani, who set a record by receiving a $30 million salary by an arbitrator last season. Soto’s eventual free agent contract expects to exceed every player’s except Ohtani, who both hits and pitches at an All-Star level.

But the Yankees can well afford whatever Soto wants, contract-wise, and appear ready to pony up for him.

That may not seem shocking to fans of small-market teams. But it does to Yankees fans who have watched the club get outbid by the likes of the Dodgers, Padres, and Mets, and outwitted by the Braves and Astros, for high-end players in recent years.

Unsurprisingly, the Braves, Astros, Rangers, and Dodgers have claimed World Series titles and the Padres have a better playoff win percentage than the Yankees over the past four seasons. The Astros have knocked off the Yankees in the ALCS three times since 2017 on the road to a pair of World Series titles, including their 2022 sweep.

All that left Yankees fans feeling deflated. But the disastrous 2023 season, where New York wasted ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole’s finest year, turned the frustration to anger.

Cole won the Cy Young Award, but the Yankees’ offense was dormant, finishing 12th in the American League in on-base percentage (.304), 14th in batting average (.227), and 11th in runs scored (673).

Yankees brass has delivered the requisite lip service, with GM Brian Cashman calling the season “a disaster.” But Cashman himself had a huge role in that by failing to sell or buy at the trade deadline while the club was still in postseason contention — leaving fans to call for his job, which he has held since 1997.

Maybe it was the public backlash that caused the organization to act — or maybe it was the threat of missing out on that sweet, sweet playoff revenue for the fourth time in the past five seasons.

Even with Soto, the Yankees are no lock to win the AL East since the Baltimore Orioles are loaded, and the Tampa Bay Rays seem to pull more water out of stones than any other MLB organization.

But the Yankees may also not be done, since the cupboard is looking bare, pitching-wise. New York traded four pitchers in the Soto deal, three to the Red Sox for outfielder Alex Verdugo on Tuesday, and it lost three more minor-league hurlers in Wednesday’s Rule 5 Draft.

But the Yanks have also been linked to prize Japanese starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto, with fans online calling the potential Soto-Yamamoto combo “YamaSoto.”

In the recent past, the Yankees landing both high-priced players would seem unlikely. But it’s clear Steinbrenner is all-in now, which means anything is possible, and the rest of baseball should watch out.

The Evil Empire in the Bronx is back.

For more New York Yankees content, continue reading below.

Analyst, Ex-Player Sees Hope For 2023 New York Yankees

June 27, 2023

By Scott Engel

Many New York Yankees fans are frustrated. The franchise has not been to a World Series in 14 years. The team is in third place in the American League East, 9.5 games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays and 5.5 games behind the surprising Baltimore Orioles.

Followers of the Yanks were further disheartened to learn over the weekend that Aaron Judge has a torn ligament in his right big toe and there is no timetable for his return. New York ranks 28th in the Majors in batting average (.228) and 22nd in OPS (.704).

Yet there is still promise for later in the year, according to YES Network analyst and former Yankee Todd Frazier. The team has managed to not only stay afloat, it has remained in playoff contention despite being without Judge and other key performers.

“They’re a half-game up in the wild card,” Frazier told The Game Day Baseball. “They’re right there. And they’re missing some key cogs. For me, if and when they get healthy, watch out, because they can click on all cylinders, especially if and when they have Aaron Judge back.”

While Judge’s return date is totally uncertain, both he and manager Aaron Boone have said they do expect that he will be back at some point.

“This is tough because it went from just a sprained toe to a torn ligament, and that’s something that’s going to take a longer time,” Frazier said. “For the Yankees, they got to figure something out. Are they going to do stuff at the trade deadline now?

“Are they going to get a rental, or are they just going to stay back and hopefully good things happen and they wait for him to get better? We don’t know.”

In the meantime, Frazier indicated that Yankees aficionados should not assume that the team is not capable of showing its true mettle when the postseason arrives. Overall, New York has still played winning baseball while dealing with multiple injury concerns.

“They’re actually eight games over .500,” Frazier said as the team entered the final week of June. “The Yankees have to get healthy. That’s the biggest thing. They haven’t played with their full roster yet this whole season. It’s about ebbs and flows.”

The two-time All-Star third baseman, who is now in the broadcast studio after an 11-season MLB career, said knowing the injury issues the team has dealt with over the first two months, he was going to be somewhat optimistic if they stayed around .500. New York has still maintained respectability while playing in the best division in the game.

“The Rays came out hot, and nobody expected them to win 13 in a row. They took the AL East by storm,” Frazier said while noting that the Yankees have still stayed near the top of the AL wild card standings despite not being able to field ideal lineups.

“You see what they’ve been putting out there in the outfield,” he said. “Billy McKinney, Jake Bauers, Willie Calhoun. It’s not what a Yankee fan hoped for but they’re coming to play and they’re battling their butts off.”

New York has a dozen players on the injured list, most notably Judge, Carlos Rodon (back/forearm), Nestor Cortes (rotator cuff), Frankie Montas (shoulder), and Frazier made sure to add in Jonathan Loáisiga (elbow) as an essential missing piece. Harrison Bader just returned from a hamstring injury last week, and even Calhoun recently landed on the IL with a quad injury.

“The guys that are stepping forward are doing the best they can to plug the leaks,” Frazier said. “McKinney is batting .302 with four home runs, seven RBI, and seven runs scored in 16 games. Bauers has hit .254 with four homers and 12 RBI over the last 30 days.”

“Because of these injuries, you expect guys coming up to try and help out.” Frazier said. “McKinney, it seems every time he hits a home run, the Yankees win. He’s hitting balls over 400 feet. These guys are coming in and saying ‘I need to step up here.’”

“This is a team that they knew they were going to need a lot of people. They didn’t go out and buy guys before the season, really. For them, keep riding the wave, don’t worry about what happened yesterday.”

Unfortunately, though, respectable play from the plug-in types has been less noticed because of the lack of offense from some of the healthy regulars. Only Anthony Rizzo is hitting above .250 and no Yankee appears in the MLB top 50 in RBI. Judge still leads the team with 40 even though he has not played since June 3.

“There’s frustration for sure, but at the same time, you can’t put it all on one person. A lot of guys aren’t hitting well, from top to bottom,” Frazier said. “They’ve got to come together. The whole team is pretty much not hitting well.”

One of the most noticeable hitters to be stuck in a funk is Giancarlo Stanton, who is at .191 on the year while hitting .121 with two home runs over the last 30 days. Frazier does expect Stanton to rebound, but the Yankees need their other top power source to start regaining his better form with Judge out until further notice.

“Stanton needs to pick it up a little bit and be the Stanton of old,” Frazier said.

Anthony Volpe is batting .195, but he does have 10 home runs and 15 steals. Frazier pointed out that the Yankees will continue to have patience with the 22-year-old shortstop, despite his ups and downs.

“They’re going to let him ride this whole season out and see where he is after that. Batting under .200 is not ideal,” Frazier said. “But ultimately, he’s got to get back in stride and keep going because there’s nothing else you can do. If they’re going to keep playing him, give him confidence, let him go out there and figure it out.”

Gleyber Torres has cooled off in June (.183 BA), but he does have three home runs this month and he hit .286 with five homers, 15 RBI, and 22 runs scored in May. That is the version of Torres that Frazier expects to see the rest of the year, and he certainly can be counted on while others have been struggling.

“You heard a lot about the talks. ‘We need to trade him, he’s not the player he was.’ But he’s one of the key dudes that will be doing it for the Yankees,” Frazier said. “He’ll have his defensive lulls here and there, but he’s a guy that the Yankees definitely need.”

“Kudos to him, he’s working his butt off. I’ve heard a lot of good things about him, hitting-wise.”

Also, as Frazier highlighted, New York’s bullpen has been stellar, with a 2.65 ERA. He credited bullpen coach Mike Harkey for doing a great job.

“When they get past the sixth, it’s pretty much lights out, go home, and they’re having a lot of fun doing it,” Frazier said.

As a former third baseman who played in the baseball cauldron of New York with the Yankees and Mets from 2017 to 2019, Frazier knows there is a lot of external pressure, yet he said the Yankee players have held together as a unit despite the injuries and outside grumblings.

“For them in the clubhouse, they’re fine, they’re having a good time,” he said. “Their focus has got to be on moving forward and not worrying about who’s in the lineup, and playing together as a unit.”

Frazier now has a new clubhouse of his own: the YES Network studios. His pregame and postgame routines are much different now, but he is having a good time while getting more comfortable.

“It’s different. A little more homework than usual,” he said. “Understanding player’s tendencies, off the field, what they try and do. During the games, talking to a lot of other people, I’m on the phone a little bit more, it seems like.”

“But it’s a lot of fun. I’m the minor league guy that just got called up so I’m working my butt off to understand what’s good and what’s bad. I’m having a blast doing it.”

It’s now been two years since his MLB career concluded and the longtime favorite son of Toms River, New Jersey is back home more often for his most important role as a father to his three children: Jake (nine years old), Kylie (seven), and Grant (four).

  • Read about how Kody Clemens, son of Roger, is paving his own path in Philadelphia.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m coaching my son on three different baseball teams. My other son does tee ball, my daughter does gymnastics. I’m all over the place being Mister Dad with schoolwork and all this stuff.

“I love it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Seeing your kid get an RBI double or a game-winner is even better than I expected.”

Frazier is now in a great place personally in his life after baseball, and he is in a very comfortable spot in the analyst chair for the Yankees’ flagship TV network. He intends to patiently eye the potential return of Judge.

“I’ve seen him walking, I’ve seen him do things, but he hasn’t been doing any baseball activities, so even when he is ready, if he’s ready, it’s going to take 20 to 25 days to go to a minor-league stint and get ready to go. They’re going to need some help for sure,” he said.

Yet in Frazier’s view, at the end of the regular season, if the Yankees have their superstar and other key top performers back in action, the summer challenges may ultimately give way to some renewed postseason hope.

“It’s tough to digest, yes,” he said of Judge’s outlook. “But find a way to get in. Anything can happen if they are healthy. If they get in, they can still be a force to be reckoned with.”


Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered the NHL since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times, NHL.com, Sportsnet.ca, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

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