Yankees Acquire Juan Soto at Home

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have been pursuing a left-handed corner outfielder all winter. They’ve telegraphed their willingness to trade, and trade multiple pitchers at that, to get their target. Last night, they did what they set out to do – at least, as long as you’re willing to take my words exactly literally. Sure, he’s not Juan Soto, but Alex Verdugo is now a Yankee, after the team traded Richard Fitts, Greg Weissert, and Nicholas Judice to the Red Sox.

For Yankees fans who have been following the sound and fury around a Soto trade in the last week, acquiring Verdugo almost feels like a joke played by Brian Cashman. “Oh, you wanted to improve our offense and get us some more left-handed hitting? Here you go! I did exactly what you asked for!” It’s not so different than your parents telling you that you don’t need to buy Lucky Charms at the grocery store because you have some at home, only to see a box of Generically Fortunate Oat-Shapes in the pantry when you run inside to check.

Is that unfair to Verdugo? Probably. He’s a perfectly serviceable player, a huge upgrade on what the Yankees ran out in the corner outfield last year. Oswaldo Cabrera, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Everson Pereira, and Billy McKinney each logged at least 100 PA in left. Cabrera also chipped in 100 PA in right, as did an injury-hampered Giancarlo Stanton. Jake Bauers checked in with 99 PA. Franchy Cordero contributed 71 PA of his own. In aggregate, even with a transcendent 222 PA from Judge, Yankees corner outfielders produced 0.7 WAR in 1,290 PA last year. 2.6 of that WAR came from Judge, which means the rest of the gang chipped in a whopping -1.9 WAR.

Verdugo is a lot better than that. He’s pretty close to an average hitter – he sports a 105 wRC+ for his career, right in line with his projections for 2024, and his wRC+ over his four-year stint in Boston is also 105. He doesn’t strike out much, takes his share of walks, and generally puts up low double-digit homers every year. He’s a scratch defender in right field with a cannon for an arm. The Yankees struggled mightily to field a competent outfield last year; Verdugo is the very picture of unpretentious competence.

One thing that Verdugo is emphatically not is Juan Soto. That’s true of pretty much every outfielder in baseball right now, but not every outfielder in baseball got acquired by the Yankees after they publicly flirted with the Padres. Soto won the 2022 home run derby; Verdugo will almost certainly never get invited to participate in one, and even if he did, he’d put up a sub-Mookie Betts performance. He’s just not a power hitter, though Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch should give him a small boost there.

If you’re willing to do a little bit of upside forecasting, the stadium change and an accompanying change in approach could boost his production from above average to excellent. As a lefty with middling power, he’s a prime candidate to loop homers over that short wall, and he has the kind of bat control (94th percentile contact rate) that makes me think he could lift and pull the ball more if he set his mind to it. I’m not saying he’ll turn into Isaac Paredes, but if he can sacrifice a bit of BABIP for an extra 5-10 homers, his offense becomes much more intriguing.

Still, that’s me dreaming about best case scenarios. In the present day, Verdugo is not a star. He’s the kind of guy you bring in to surround your stars, and the prospects the Yankees sent back to Boston reflect that reality. Weissert is the only one of the three to have made the majors so far; he’s logged 31 innings in the last two years on the bullpen shuttle. He’s a classic sinker/sweeper type, the kind that seem to fill out half the bullpens in baseball these days. He projects in that role with the Red Sox; he might not make the team out of spring training, but he’ll certainly fit into the mix at some point. Stockpiling Weissert-esque arms is just smart business; you never know when a secondary pitch will click or a mechanical adjustment will add game-breaking velo and turn your fifth reliever into a lockdown option.

The true headliner of the deal is probably Fitts, a 2021 draftee who hit Double-A in 2023. He commands a rising fastball well and held his 93-95 mph velocity over a 150-inning workload. It’s the kind of pitch that provides a good foundation for a starter’s arsenal; it’s not one of those flat-plane invisiballs that turn batters into pretzels, but it has good shape and he keeps it out of the center of the zone while peppering the upper boundary of the zone. But don’t take it from me; here’s Eric Longenhagen’s updated report on him:

“Fitts spent most of his college career in the bullpen, but, as the Yankees frequently do, he was moved into the starting rotation as a pro and he has ascended through the minors with little resistance. Fitts worked a whopping 152 innings in 2023, 50 innings more than he did in 2022, and not only maintained his velocity throughout the entire season but had a little bit of a bump. He began his last start of the year pumping 93-96 mph fastballs past Double-A hitters. There is still not a third pitch here but Fitts checks every other starting pitcher scouting box. Plus-plus fastball command and a hard two-plane slider give him two whiff-getting weapons, and any worry about stamina or command leftover from his pre-draft look has evaporated. The Yankees list is going to be one of the first published and Fitts would have been a 45 FV arm ranked relatively high in that system. His 40-man timeline puts him on pace to debut in 2025. If he can develop a third viable offering in 2024, he’ll be a top 100 prospect next offseason, but he’s polished enough as a strike-thrower to debut in 2024 if the BoSox need him.”

Judice is a distant third in terms of the players Boston acquired in this deal, a towering reliever who the Yankees drafted this year and who hasn’t yet made his professional debut. He’s a blank slate rather than a finished product. Again, here’s Eric:

“Judice is a college projection arm in the extreme, an eighth round pick out of Louisiana-Monroe (they’re the Warhawks, doncha know) who is built like an Andean condor at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds. Judice sat 92-93 and peaked in the 95-97 mph range in 2023. His cross-bodied, low-slot delivery could probably use an overhaul, and Judice could stand to make better use of his lower body throughout his delivery. His current heater has equal parts rise and run, his mid-80s slider has fairly considerable sweep. There’s interesting raw material here, it just needs love from a professional player development department to be of major league quality. Judice is an older sleeper and developmental flier more than he is a true prospect at this point.”

And if you’re interested in seeing what an Andean condor would look like on a baseball field, here he is in the Cape Cod league:

In aggregate, the return for Verdugo is pretty close to what Michael Baumann forecasted earlier this offseason. The Red Sox aren’t getting anyone who they can plug into their long-term plans, but they’re getting several bites at the pitching apple. If Fitts adds a third plus pitch, he might make this trade look like a coup for Boston, but you can’t count on that happening, and the Yankees are getting a sure-thing major league contributor in exchange. From a value perspective, this deal feels fair for everyone involved.

Surely, the Yankees don’t see Verdugo as the only move they need to make. That just wouldn’t track; their offense was a complete shambles last year, and upgrading one position from grim to acceptable will hardly turn that around on its own. This isn’t rocket science; you don’t try to trade for Juan Soto if your offseason plan is to upgrade a few marginal positions and call it a day.

The issue, then, is the sequencing. If you start out by getting Soto, every move you make thereafter will be seen in that light. If you go in the opposite order, every move you make will get compared to bringing in Soto until you actually do. Theoretically, Verdugo puts the Yankees in a roster bind, because they only have two corner outfield spots and the DH to fit Stanton, Judge, Verdugo, and Soto. But there are ways around that; Judge can play center, as Aaron Boone recently confirmed, or the team can phase Stanton out of their plans. He was part of the problem rather than the solution last year, and might be limited to DH at this point in his career. Heck, they could even trade Verdugo as part of the Soto deal; the Padres are in the market for cost-controlled major leaguers, so maybe this will just end up as a three-team trade with more steps.

The Yankees can’t be done with their offseason here, even excluding their pursuit of Soto. They need more infield depth and more injury protection for their starters, particularly after giving up pitching in this deal. They’ll likely have to trade from the major league roster, too, which will require patching another hole. But this deal won’t stop any of that from happening. If the Yankees do what they’ve been saying they’ll do, everyone will look back on this trade as a funny little side note, the time Brian Cashman trolled the fans with a Canal Street version of Juan Soto before trading for the genuine article.

That does put some pressure on the team, though. If they don’t get Soto, and don’t win the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, this trade will look atrocious. The whole offseason would look pretty bad even without a lightning rod for criticism, but getting a role player who lines up in the same place where you publicly admitted you need a star is the perfect storm for a fan revolt. I think this trade is perfectly reasonable for the Yankees – if they go out and take care of business. If they don’t, this trade will end up as a referendum on everything that the team should have done but didn’t.





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

78 Comments
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airforce21one
5 months ago

Talk about misleading headlines…

Sculpin
5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

Really annoying. I’ve been getting a steady stream of exactly this sort of thing on the Microsoft homepage – headlines carefully worded to make it sound like something happened – such as “World Reacts to Shohei Ohtani News” and then you click and nothing has happened. I would like to think this site is better than that.

Jross
5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

If the Dick Fitts…

tomerafan
5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

Really, really disappointed in the headline. Like, it’s not funny or amusing. It’s really poorly placed. I jumped out of my chair. Don’t slide into clickbait garbage. Please.

Smiling Politelymember
5 months ago
Reply to  tomerafan

Maybe the worst headline in FG history. Sounds like someone asked an AI to write a joke about Verdugo signing instead of Soto. Not just “against the spirit,” but just garbled nonsense. Hard to even know what the intention was. Really disappointing feel to this entire approach as a result.

Michaelmember
5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

it’s a joke if you’re familiar with the lexicon of online posting. also this is not the place for up-to-the-minute baseball news, no news gets broken on FG

EonADS
5 months ago
Reply to  Michael

Then do “Yankees say: We have Juan Soto at home” or something. Too much clickbit with the way it’s worded. Context matters, but the context is “Yankees Acquire Juan Soto […]” as the first thing you read.

jason shuremember
5 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

imho that’s a better headline, yeah. When we make jokes, esp with cultural references, we sometimes overestimate the degree to which the audience is following. that’s all that happened. To be clear, I don’t experience fangraphs as being clickbait-y in any way, and I’m not worried about this being the tip of some iceberg. And i fully support the playfullness of the writing here, even if occasioanlly I’m scratching my head. Some jokes just don’t hit. If you aren’t crossing the line every once in a while you aren’t skating close enough to it.

Michaelmember
5 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

cmon this is so frivolous. arent most of us at work right now, lol? also, it’s a ben clemens article, who uses wordplay in most every headline. there is nothing nefarious here

Chip Lockemember
5 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

How dare Ben Clemens make a joke referencing the non-trade of a baseball superstar on a baseball website. Doesn’t he know his readers don’t keep up with baseball news?

EonADS
5 months ago
Reply to  Chip Locke

It’s more a matter of actually writing coherently, but sure. Clearly nobody had a problem with it judging from the comment section, right?

Seriously, it’s possible to be witty or funny without making people flip their lids.

Chip Lockemember
5 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

Yeah, FG readers are not a monolith. But when I saw the headline I knew it was about Verdugo because I knew he had been traded and Soto had not. I am guessing that was what Ben was assuming of the readership and maybe that’s not realistic, but I would think the same way.

Spahn_and_Sain
5 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

That’s better, but also doesn’t make sense. They don’t “have” Verdugo in this scenario, they acquired him. It’s a completely unrelated meme, shoehorned in for.. inexplicable reasons. The ‘store brand’ in the Soto article is more on point.

Last edited 5 months ago by Spahn_and_Sain
Chip Lockemember
5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

If you are learning about the Verdugo trade (and lack of Soto trade) for the first time here, I suggest you subscribe to any of the 3 trillion MLB news-breaking sites. Heck, you could subscribe to any regular news-breaking site if you want to hear that a Soto trade occurred.

I confidently presume that the author penned this headline with the idea that anyone reading would know that Juan Soto has not yet been traded.

airforce21one
5 months ago
Reply to  Chip Locke

You’re missing the point.

We come here specifically because FG normally doesn’t have junk like those other MLB sites.

Chip Lockemember
5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

I guess I just don’t see this headline as some over-the-top-NY-Post-style bait. The article itself was good and I knew it was going to be about Verdugo before I even read the headline.

fjtorres
5 months ago
Reply to  airforce21one

Cruel.
And I’m not even a Yankee fan.
Bait and switch click bait.