Last Updated on November 11, 2023 at 10:51 am by Sara Molnick
As winter sets in, the Yankees are facing a crucial juncture as they’re seeking ways to rejuvenate their winning momentum. The name of Juan Soto and Cody Bellinger keeps surfacing in discussions about bolstering the Yankees’ offense.
During Cashman’s spirited media session in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Tuesday, the 56-year-old highlighted the team’s intent to acquire two outfielders, with a preference for left-handed hitters. Notably, there is a free-agent All-Star that aligns with Cashman’s criteria. He is coming off a stellar 2023 season with the Chicago Cubs.
Cody Bellinger made a significant impact on the baseball scene last season. He caught everyone’s attention after three years of less impressive performance. The 2019 NL MVP signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Cubs in December 2022 and went on to slash .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers and 97 RBI.
At 28 years old, Bellinger is known for his solid outfield defense and serves as a potent left-handed bat. This is precisely what the Yankees are seeking. With a debut at the age of 21, the versatile slugger has maintained a career batting average of .258 which demonstrates consistent production at the plate, although it has faced challenges in recent years. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 22.1, particularly the 10.8 offensive WAR, underscores his value. This makes him an asset for any team he plays for.
When it comes to Sabermetrics, Bellinger has 361 extra-base hits, a Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .285, and a 7.9% success rate in stolen bases (SB%). His elevated BABIP indicates a consistent ability to put the ball in play effectively. However, despite a respectable Win Probability Added (WPA) of 8.8, Bellinger’s slightly lower clutch scores suggest that he may not excel in high-pressure situations.
Juan Soto has more credibility
Yet, he’s not Juan Soto. Juan Soto has left a lasting impact in 779 games and 3375 plate appearances. His career batting average holds steady at a reliable .284. This highlights his consistent ability to connect and reach base. Soto’s career WAR of 28.7 surpasses Bellinger’s, emphasizing his substantial value to his team. With an offensive WAR of 18.1 and an outstanding Wins Above Average (WAA) of 30.5, Soto’s contributions are clearly evident.
The 24-year-old Soto emerges as an ideal fit for the Yankees and would serve as the left-handed hitting outfielder who boasted a .275/.410/.519 slash line with 35 homers and 109 RBI last season. Acquiring Soto will not only significantly elevate the Yankees’ immediate World Series prospects but will also extend another window of contention due to his youth. The reason is that he would be surrounded by emerging talents like Anthony Volpe, Austin Wells, and Jasson Dominguez.
The Padres’ superstar is set to become a free agent after the 2024 season. Despite swirling rumors about Soto’s potential availability via trade this offseason, agent Scott Boras and Padres GM AJ Preller appeared to dismiss such speculations on Wednesday.
Soto stands out as the ideal acquisition. If he’s not available now, there might be another opportunity in July, especially if the Padres are out of contention, having underperformed significantly in 2023 with an 82-80 record. At that point, his trade value would likely decrease with just half a year remaining on his contract.
Throughout his career, Soto has been a consistent offensive force. His sabermetric statistics are equally impressive as he’s boasting 319 extra-base hits, a solid Batting Average on Balls in Play (BAbip) of .307, and a 24.5% stolen base success rate (SB%), highlighting his ability for quality contact that captures attention. Additionally, Soto’s Wins Probability Added (WPA) of 18.4 and commendable clutch scores underscore his capability to perform exceptionally well in crucial moments.
The Yankees dilemma
Inking Bellinger to a substantial free-agent deal could potentially remove the Yankees from contention for Soto, a pattern resembling the mistake made in 2017. Similar to the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, who had a stellar 2017, the Yankees might face consequences, reminiscent of their absence from the Harper sweepstakes in subsequent years—a decision that continues to impact their options this offseason.
In this analogy, Bellinger represents Stanton, and Soto stands in for Harper. Opting for the 28-year-old Bellinger might be even more alluring than the Stanton deal in 2017, especially given the significant disappointment of the 2023 season.
However, the Yankees must be cautious not to jeopardize their chance to acquire another exceptional talent based solely on Bellinger’s one-year resurgence—considering he comes with his own set of concerns.
Bellinger’s underlying metrics suggest he had a fortunate season last year. Ranking in the 10th percentile in Hard-Hit%, 27th percentile in Barrel%, and 22nd percentile in average exit velocity, he had a low rate of hard hits, but his overall numbers were still successful.
Additionally, the outfielder had a three-season dip, with OPS figures of .789, .542, and .645 from 2020 to 2022. Engaging in long-term, high-cost commitments carries risks, and with Boras as his agent, Bellinger could command up to $200 million. The Yankees should prioritize certainty, and Soto appears to be a more reliable option, even if it requires some patience regarding his potential availability.
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