The move for Soto, a 25-year-old outfielder due to hit free agency after the 2024 season, signals a change in posture for both franchises. The Yankees, who have been less willing to jump at available stars in recent years than in their decorated past, look to be aggressive again after finishing fourth in the American League East and missing the playoffs.
The Padres, who have spent freely on stars in recent years despite a modest market size, appear determined to lower payroll now — and perhaps for years to come.
Soto, the former Washington Nationals standout who was a key part of the team’s 2019 World Series title, was already a rarity among young superstars since his call-up in 2018, when he was still a teenager. A four-time Silver Slugger, Soto has walked more than any player through his age-24 season. (He turned 25 on Oct. 25.) He has more homers (160) through that age than all but eight players in history — and the same number as future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.
And now he has already been traded twice — perhaps the most surprising part of his résumé. In San Diego, as in Washington, the cost of signing Soto to an extension became simply too expensive. His agent, Scott Boras, is expected to seek a long-term deal for Soto worth about $400 million.
The Padres, whose fearless and free-spending owner, Peter Seidler, died last month, decided they need money for starting pitching now and to rein in their still-substantial payroll for later. The Nationals made a similar calculation when they moved Soto at the 2022 trade deadline, a deal that brought them a haul of prospects and signaled the start of their rebuild.
In part because of the meteoric numbers he compiled in his Nationals tenure, in part because he never quite seemed to be the same on or off the field in San Diego, the two years he spent as a Padre will probably be remembered as both very good and disappointing. He hit .265 — 30 points below his career mark — in 214 games, with slugging percentages and OPSes that still qualified as elite but that were also more than 50 points lower than his career numbers.
People familiar with his Padres tenure said Soto also changed off the field in San Diego, preferring to do his hitting alone and out of sight, becoming harder for coaches and others to reach than he had been in Washington. But those familiar with his thinking said this week that Soto was open to a long-term future in San Diego if team and player could find a financial fit. They couldn’t and — like the Nationals before them — the Padres made sure to get something for him while they could.
The move was the second the Yankees made in 24 hours. On Tuesday night, they acquired outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Red Sox in a deal that provides outfield depth while betting on Verdugo to produce before becoming a free agent next offseason. And they are pursuing Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto to bolster an aging rotation. The Yankees, who flirted with the AL East basement last season, have become the early leaders in terms of offseason additions in what is traditionally a loaded division.
But the Toronto Blue Jays are pursuing Shohei Ohtani. The Baltimore Orioles signed closer Craig Kimbrel to a one-year deal reportedly worth $13 million, making him the Orioles’ biggest free agent signing since Chris Davis. But so far, the Yankees are acting like the Yankees of old this offseason, and by pairing Soto with slugging Aaron Judge in the heart of a suddenly formidable order, they might start looking like it next summer, too.