For Fantasy Baseballers, it's a win. For Juan Soto, a win. In fact, basically everyone comes out ahead in this deal except for the Padres, who clearly were afraid of Soto walking next offseason and leaving them with nothing to show for the massive price they paid in 2022.
It's clear now that San Diego wasn't a great fit for Soto. He's a career .231 hitter with a .783 OPS there, including .240 and .827 in what was his one full season with the Padres. Of his 35 homers in 2023, 23 came on the road, where he hit a more Soto-like .307 with a 1.026 OPS. And yet even with those park constraints, the 25-year-old was still an unquestioned Fantasy stud, placing 14th among all hitters in 5x5 categories leagues and sixth in points leagues, where he's always going to rank higher because of his incomparable plate discipline.
The question is how much better he'll get at Yankee Stadium. Because he will get better -- the splits tell us that much -- but it's all too easy now that he's taking aim at that famous right field porch to go all pie-in-the-sky with forecasts of 50-plus homers. His career high is, well, the 35 he just hit, and while he does make the sort of impactful contact you'd expect from a superstar, his tendency to put the ball on the ground (more than 50 percent of the time most years) does undermine his power potential.
In fact, Statcast's expected home runs by ballpark suggests would have hit fewer home runs playing every game at Yankee Stadium last year, and that's true for every year of his career other than pandemic-shortened 2020. Granted, I don't believe it given everything else we know about both the venue and the player. Statcast also rates Yankee Stadium as the second-best home run park for left-handed hitters over the past three years while rating Petco Park only 26th, A simple park overlay showing where Soto's batted balls would have landed at Yankee Stadium last season also paints a rosy picture:
What I take from it all is that those dreaming up 50-homer outcomes for Soto are indeed probably dreaming, But also, exiting San Diego is the best thing for his Fantasy value, and there isn't a place much better than Yankee Stadium for him to wind up. It's distinctly possible that this last season before free agency turns out to be the best of his career, which is saying something for a guy who slashed .322/.471/.572 in 850 plate appearances between 2020 and 2021. Does it get him back to a .300 batting average and maybe even to 40 homers for the first time? It's entirely plausible.
What's trickier is whether it vaults Soto back into the first round for standard 5x5 scoring, where he's been drafted over the past few years but mostly to the frustration of those who've drafted him. Look, it's a crowded group. Just because I want to believe the .300-plus batting average and 40-plus homers will happen doesn't mean you can take it to the bank, and to move Soto into Round 1 would mean to draft him ahead of Corey Seager, Matt Olson and Jose Ramirez -- MVP-caliber bats, all.
|Scott's top 20 for 2024 (5x5 categories scoring)
Ronald Acuna, OF, ATL
Spencer Strider, SP, ATL
Bobby Witt, SS, KC
Corey Seager, SS, TEX
Julio Rodriguez, OF, SEA
Juan Soto, OF, NYY
Corbin Carroll, OF, ARI
Yordan Alvarez, OF, HOU
Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, LAD
Matt Olson, 1B, ATL
Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL
Jose Ramirez, 3B, CLE
Kyle Tucker, OF, HOU
Shohei Ohtani, DH, FA
Fernando Tatis, OF, SD
Gerrit Cole, SP, NYY
Trea Turner, SS, PHI
Bryce Harper, 1B, PHI
Aaron Judge, OF, NYY
Pete Alonso, 1B, NYM
So I can't say with certainty that I will draft Soto in Round 1. How I see it, at least for 5x5 scoring, is that there are 17 first round-caliber bats and also two pitchers (Spencer Strider and Gerrit Cole) who should factor into that mix. Soto has improved his standing within that group, but once you get past the big base-stealers early in Round 1, it becomes a matter of preference. Those who value durability might opt for Soto ahead of Aaron Judge and Yordan Alvarez. Those who value position scarcity might opt for him ahead of Seager, Olson and Ramirez. What's changed is that Soto is actually part of that discussion now.
I'll also reiterate that such analysis is specifically for 5x5 categories scoring. In Head-to-Head points scoring, where you get the benefit of all of Soto's walks, he's a candidate to go in the top five.
As for the other players involved in this deal, the biggest name for 2024 is Michael King, who spent the past couple of years establishing himself as a high-leverage reliever before getting a chance to start down the stretch in 2023 The experiment went as well as anyone could have hoped for, with his four-pitch arsenal proving just as effective as in shorter stints and his velocity holding steady even as he was extended to six and seven innings.
In all, he put together a 1.88 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 11.3 K/9 in those eight starts, but of course, fakeouts over such a small sample are hardly uncommon. It's also fair to wonder if King's arm will hold up as a full-time starter given that he suffered a stress fracture in his elbow a couple of years ago -- an injury linked to usage. Still, him being the prize of such a high-profile deal only further ensures his opportunity to start, and the upside is reason to roll the dice on him as a top-40 starting pitcher, perhaps even higher in leagues where his RP eligibility makes a difference.
Among the other players the Padres acquired in the deal (a not-so-illustrious group that includes Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez and Kyle Higashioka, as well as Trent Grisham joining Soto with the Yankees), the one who's also worth commenting on is pitching prospect Drew Thorpe, a right-hander who demanded attention last year through utter domination, leading the minors with 182 strikeouts.
Seeing as he didn't earn particularly high marks prior to last season, there was reason to believe the 23-year-old was outclassing younger competition in High-A with his well-developed changeup, but he was just as impressive after he moved up to Double-A in August. In 15 starts to close out the season, Thorpe put together a 1.88 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 12.2 K/9, going seven-plus innings in nearly half of him. Given the state of the Padres rotation, it's likely he gets a look at some point in 2024, though opening day seems not so likely.