Yankees see Juan Soto as the final piece of the World Series puzzle

Yankees' target Juan Soto during a game in the World Baseball Classic

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There are numerous compelling reasons why the Yankees would be eager to have Juan Soto patrolling left field for them in 2024, even acknowledging that his defensive performance has been less than stellar throughout much of his career.

Amidst Juan Soto’s other remarkable qualities at the plate, one standout aspect is his proficiency as one of the most productive hitters in the game, especially in an area where the Yankees faced challenges last season: hitting with runners in scoring position.

The Yankees, who made mid-season adjustments by dismissing hitting coach Dillon Lawson and concluding the year under Sean Casey, have enlisted James Rowson to revitalize what was a lackluster offense. Concluding the previous season with a .677 OPS with runners in scoring position, the Yankees found themselves ranked second-worst in the majors in this regard.

Juan Soto’s proficiency at the plate shines through, particularly in these situations. In 2023, he maintained a stellar 1.015 OPS with runners in scoring position, securing the ninth-best position in MLB. This trend aligns with his career performance, boasting a noteworthy .972 OPS.

Where Juan Soto could boost the Yankees

The prospect of Juan Soto joining forces with Aaron Judge is enticing. Despite being limited to 106 games due to a torn ligament in his right big toe, Judge displayed excellence when present on the field, boasting a .930 OPS with runners in scoring position. Together, they could form a formidable tandem for the Yankees.

Padres star and Yankees target Juan Soto at Petco Park in 2022.
Jose Soto Pacheco

Bringing in Juan Soto would not only address this specific area but also result in immediate improvements in various other facets of the team. According to a National League scout, the individual in question excels in various aspects, a consensus among many. However, for a team seeking to revamp its offense following last year’s performance, Juan Soto stands out as someone capable of rectifying nearly every issue due to his skills and impact.

Juan Soto is anticipated to be part of a trade orchestrated by the Padres, and according to Jon Heyman of The Post, the Yankees and San Diego have engaged in discussions regarding potential player exchanges. However, no imminent deal appears to be in the works.

Entering his final year before free agency, and with representation by Scott Boras, there’s a prevailing belief that Juan Soto, regardless of where he lands, is unlikely to sign an extension before testing the open market.

Notably, Juan Soto, who celebrated his 25th birthday in October, has demonstrated durability throughout his career, playing in at least 151 games in each of the last three seasons, including a full 162-game season this past year.

The defensive concern

Despite the undeniable offensive boost he would provide and the Yankees‘ pressing need for two starting outfielders and a left-handed bat, Juan Soto does come with a couple of concerns, most notably regarding his defensive performance.

Juan-Soto
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When questioned about his defensive shortcomings, the scout showed little enthusiasm for the subject. The scout noted that Juan Soto might occasionally make errors or display less-than-ideal plays on the field, but emphasized that his primary role isn’t centered around flawless defensive performances. Rather, the player’s key role is to serve as a formidable presence in the middle of the lineup, a role he would fulfill admirably if he were in New York.

As per Fangraphs, in the previous season with San Diego, he recorded a -6 Defensive Runs Saved in left field, showcasing a vulnerability that might become even more apparent in the expansive left field at Yankee Stadium. Additionally, Baseball Savant reported a -9 Outs Above Average for him with the Padres, and Juan Soto’s -7 Fielding Run Value ranked 19th out of 25 players who logged a minimum of 500 innings at that position.

The NL scout pointed out that during the previous season, the Yankees had Oswaldo Cabrera in that position, implying a preference for taking the opportunity or risk associated with having Juan Soto instead.

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