Juan Soto brushes off extension talk – Yankees know ‘where to call’

Juan Soto had his introductory news conference with the New York Yankees on Tuesday, greeting the media on a Zoom call wearing a Yankees hat — and although he smiled when asked about putting on the hat for the first time, he did not commit to signing a contract extension.

He also didn’t rule it out.

“They know where to call and who to talk to,” he said, referring to agent Scott Boras. “I’m here just to play baseball.”

That was the message Soto repeated throughout the 30-minute session. He’s looking forward to meeting his new teammates — Aaron Judge, among others, has already reached out to him — and learning about the organization.

His perfect season is winning a championship. He’ll bring energy to the ballpark and the clubhouse every game. Eligible for free agency after the 2024 season, however, Soto understands he’ll face constant questions about staying in New York, and said it won’t be difficult focusing on baseball rather than his potential monster payday that some forecast as a $400 million contract.

“I’ve been doing it for six years,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be that hard. Scott Boras is my agent. I put everything on him and let him give his advice. My mindset is to come here to play baseball and try to win a championship.”

That’s why the Yankees made the deal: They missed the playoffs in 2023 for the first time since 2016 after finishing 25th in the majors in runs scored. The Yankees acquired Soto and center fielder Trent Grisham from the San Diego Padres on Dec. 6 for right-handed pitchers Michael King, Randy Vasquez, Jhony Brito and Drew Thorpe and catcher Kyle Higashioka.

One of the most precocious hitters in recent memory, Soto reached the majors as a 19-year-old in 2018 and helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series in 2019, hitting .333 with three home runs in the seven-game victory over the Houston Astros.

Compared to Ted Williams for his ability to get on base at such a high rate, he maybe hasn’t quite reached those lofty expectations, but since his first full season in 2019, no hitter has created more estimated runs than Soto. According to Baseball-Reference, he has produced 208 runs more than the average hitter; Freddie Freeman and Judge are tied for second at 189 runs. He has led the majors in walks each of the past three seasons and has posted a .400-plus on-base percentage each year of his career, leading the majors in 2020 (.490) and 2021 (.465).

The Yankees were also especially desperate for some left-handed thump for the lineup: They were 27th in OPS from left-handed hitters (.673) and 28th in home runs (55). Grisham also hits left-handed, as does Alex Verdugo, acquired from the Boston Red Sox in another trade.

While the Padres disappointed as a team, Soto hit .275/.410/.519 with 35 home runs, 109 RBIs and 132 walks, ranking ninth in the majors in OPS. That figure could climb as he moves to Yankee Stadium, where he has hit four home runs in 28 career plate appearances. He also moves away from Petco Park, a tough place for hitters, as he hit 23 of his 35 home runs on the road. Soto sprays the ball around the field but should still be able to take advantage of the short right-field wall at Yankee Stadium.

“I know there’s a really short porch right there and it’s going to be on your mind,” he said, “but I’m definitely going to try to stay to the same approach that I’ve been doing.”

Still, given the Yankees gave up Michael King — who projected as one of their starting pitchers — in the trade, plus three other young potential starters in Thorpe, Vasquez and Brito, there will be pressure on general manager Brian Cashman and ownership to sign Soto. After all, the Yankees have passed on other big-name hitters in recent years: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and, this offseason, Shohei Ohtani.

Given Soto’s age and production, an extension may surpass Mike Trout’s $426 million contract as the second biggest in the sport. Soto reportedly turned down a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals in 2022, prompting the trade that summer to the Padres.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *