Insight into why Yankees shielding two players Padres asking for Juan Soto

Yankees pitcher Mike King, trade target Juan Soto, and pitching prospect Drew Thorpe.

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The Yankees are in pursuit of a game-changing addition following a challenging 2023 season, setting their sights on Juan Soto, a left-handed outfielder known for powerful hitting. The current team of this sought-after player, who happens to be a three-time All-Star, is the San Diego Padres. In an interesting twist, the Padres are looking for salary relief as they approach the final season with this talented outfielder before he becomes a free agent.

The remaining players included in the rumored trade packages appear to be well-suited for each other. This is due to the Yankees possessing a cadre of promising, young pitchers, which aligns with the Padres’ rebuilding efforts to strengthen a rotation that is set to lose approximately 700 innings.

According to various reports, including those from NJ Advance Media, San Diego has expressed interest in acquiring pitchers Michael King and Clarke Schmidt, along with five additional players, among them the highly regarded pitching prospect Drew Thorpe. However, reports indicate that the Yankees are hesitant to part with all of these players, with particular reluctance to include King and Thorpe in the potential trade.

The specifics of the Yankees’ offer remain uncertain, but there is a belief that a potential deal framework exists, as reported by Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media. The Yankees seem resolute and have no intention of yielding in negotiations. On December 1, Jon Heyman from The New York Post mentioned that the Yankees’ counterproposal did not receive a favorable response from the Padres.

Juan Soto has been in the spotlight as one of the New York Yankees' main targets during this offseason
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Calculation behind Yankees shielding King

Certainly, the Yankees are aware that acquiring Soto from the Padres will necessitate parting with multiple valuable assets. However, there are reports suggesting that relinquishing both King and Thorpe for a rental player is firmly ruled out as an option.

King showcased his potential as a starting pitcher last season after transitioning from a reliever, demonstrating a commendable 2.23 ERA over 40 1/3 innings in his new role. The 28-year-old has notably excelled as a reliever in recent years, boasting a 2.88 ERA and an impressive 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings from 2021 to 2023. Moreover, he remains under contract until 2026. As for Schmidt, aged 27, he navigated his first full major league season last year, accumulating a 4.64 ERA and an 8.4 K/9 mark across 159 innings. His free agency eligibility is not until 2028.

Based on King’s performance in the latter part of the 2023 season, the right-handed pitcher appears poised to play a significant role in the Yankees’ starting rotation. This is particularly noteworthy given the uncertainties surrounding the team’s pitching staff. While King has long been a valuable asset in Manager Aaron Boone’s pitching strategy, serving as a versatile and effective multi-inning reliever, he adeptly transitioned to the role of a starting pitcher, seamlessly embracing the opportunity to pitch every five days towards the conclusion of the recent season.

Yankees teammates greet Micheal King after his outing against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 20, 2023.
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Boone mentioned on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings in Nashville that he believed the player had demonstrated his growth over the past couple of years and proved his ability to perform in a starter’s role. According to Boone, the player showcased proficiency in pitching during the middle and later innings, utilizing a full range of pitches toward the end of the season. Boone also praised the player’s exceptional fastball command, emphasizing the effectiveness of having command on both sides of the plate with a two-seam, four-seam, and complementing it with secondary weapons. In Boone’s opinion, the player possesses all the necessary attributes to become a highly skilled starting pitcher.

The question of whether his arm can endure the demands of a full season as a starter is yet to be answered. Two summers ago, King experienced a substantial elbow injury that prematurely concluded his season. However, the Yankees envision his potential as their No. 2 or 3 starter, positioned behind ace Gerrit Cole, provided he can overcome any durability concerns.

Why Yankees are playing tug-of-war over pitching prospect

At the age of 23, Thorpe advanced to Double-A during the previous season, registering impressive statistics with a 2.52 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and a striking 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings over 139 1/3 innings across two levels. Despite his rapid progression towards the major leagues, Baseball America positioned him as the Yankees’ seventh-best prospect, while MLB Pipeline ranked him as the fifth-best prospect. Additionally, he earned the distinction of being the second-best pitching prospect in the organization, trailing only Chase Hampton, according to Baseball America’s top-10 prospect list for 2024.

Boone mentioned that the player had an excellent year and possesses an impressive changeup. According to Boone, the term “pitch ability” aptly describes the player, as he doesn’t rely on overpowering with his fastball but rather showcases a special changeup. Boone added that the fastball gains effectiveness due to the player’s pitch ability, contributing to a highly successful year for him.

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According to Baseball America, they noted that Thorpe’s pure stuff may not immediately catch the eye, but his performance speaks volumes. They highlighted his ability to throw strikes, attributing it to the potential of being a back-end starter. There is optimism for an increased ceiling if he can enhance his fastball velocity or make slight adjustments to one of his breaking pitches or cutter.

Is it justified for the Yankees to be cautious in parting with their young pitchers? (Soto boasts a career 28.6 WAR according to Baseball Reference, complemented by a .284 batting average and a .946 OPS, including 160 home runs and 483 RBIs. His consistent performance has resulted in a 157 OPS+ over six seasons. In the previous year, he achieved a batting line of .275/.410/.519, contributing 35 home runs and 109 RBIs.)

Presently, King and Schmidt hold positions in the rotation, offering cost-effectiveness within a group that harbors uncertainties beyond Gerrit Cole. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic’s observations on Monday night, a potential resolution to the standoff involving Soto could involve the Yankees initiating negotiations by proposing one of these two pitchers and proceeding accordingly. It’s conceivable that a trade centered around Schmidt, who recorded a 4.64 ERA in his inaugural full season in the Yankees’ rotation, might also be a viable option.

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