Soto Voce

Baseball seems to resonate best when it connects the past to the present.  In a Winter Meetings week where scant little of consequence happened, the one exception may have been the consumantion of a trade that has sent one of the game’s top young players, Juan Soto, to the sport’s still most-decorated franchise, the New York Yankees.

As it used to be.  As it shall be again.  And, for frustrated Yankees fans, a belief that, at last, a Steinbrenner without the first name of George has heard their pleas.

The Yankees last won a World Series in 2009, the last autumn that George Steinbrenner was alive.  In his era, a Winter Meetings almost never did not feel his presence and his urgency, especially in the years where they fell short of what he insisted was the only acceptable result–winning it all.  His checkbook was open, his door even more so.  Stars and agents eagerly sought them out, many of whom were ill-suited for the pressure and scrutiny that came along with it.

But last year, the Yankees finished with their worst record since they hit the bottom of their division in 1990, the year George Steinbrenner was suspended from Major League Baseball for his involvement with a convicted gambler.  The year after his longtime rival and partner in crime Billy Martin was killed on Christmas Day when he was too drunk to control his pickup on a snowy upstate New York farm road.  The year they had to fire the same guy forever linked to post-season success, Bucky Dent, who proved to be a far less effective manager than he did a clutch hitter.

So Hal Steinbrenner and his longtime architect of better days Brian Cashman heard the demands through most of the fall, through the playoffs the team missed completely.  They reminded them 2024 was going to be Year 15 of their drought–the same gap they had between World Series appearances after the “Mr. May” investment in Dave Winfield failed to yield a win over the Dodgers in 1981 and their resurgence under the first iterations of the Core Four in 1996, as well as the gap between world’s championships between the Bobby RIchardson line-drive snag of Willie McCovey’s potential series-winning hit in San Francisco in 1962 and the monumental three-home night of Reggie Jackson’s in 1977.

They also reminded them that the Yankees of the 2010s, even with the flashes of success they have had relative to expectations such as their surprising run to the 2017 ALCS, failed to have any acquired players making significant contributions.  They let Bryce Harper go to Philadelphia, Gerrit Cole go to Houston before they overpaid dearly when given a second chance, and passed on chances to snag the likes of Manny Machado for short-term rentals.  There was a belief that the home-grown approach of the Core Four days was the way to go.

But 82-80 on the cusp of a Year 15 was too much to bear for most fans.

So in spite of some last-minute sweating and what were percieved as aggressive demands on the part of a San Diego Padres team that was financially forced to make this move, the Yankees’ brass has objectively read the tea leaves of the situation.  If a player with the track record of Soto was going to be moved, it might as well be to them.  And as NEWSWEEK’s Robert Read reported earlier this week, in a manner their supporters would consider to be fully accurate:

The New York Yankees acquired three-time All-Star Juan Soto in a seven-player deal with the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night as the league’s winter meetings came to a close.  

Among the haul that went back to the Padres are right-handed pitchers Drew Thorpe, one of the top 100 prospects in MLB, and Randy Vásquez, the No. 13-ranked player in the Yankees’ farm system. A steep price for Soto looks all the more expensive considering this offseason splash could just be a 1-year rental. 

The 25-year-old outfielder is set to be a free agent after the upcoming season. But even if Soto walks after this year, acquiring a player on a Hall-of-Fame track after a down season in the Big Apple was an offer the Yankees couldn’t pass up.

Still, as CLUTCH POINTS’ Angelo Guinhawa dcoumented, it was a risk that HAD to be taken:
“I told myself I was done with the Yankees until they made a big move. Welp I’m right back in. Catch me at the stadium numerous times this year,” a fan commented about the completion of the Soto deal.  Another supporter shared, “This is the type of move the Yankees needed to make. And it’s definitely exciting as a fan. Hopefully this helps them win again.”  “I can’t even entertain the possibility of this being real omg I’m stoned and shaking,” a third commenter shared.
As MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell attempted to relate, there was some degree of seller’s remorse:
“It’s very difficult to make a deal where you’re trading a player the caliber of Juan Soto,” said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. “But if we did that, we wanted to make sure we shored up a bunch of needs. We were able to get some depth, with quality.”
But for a team with as much at stake as the Yankees, all of a sudden 2024 became relevant.  And with the additional move of a rare deal with the Red Sox that yielded them potential fellow outfield starter Alex Verdugo as the Nashville meetinsg started, they now present a lineup that will be must-see TV for anyone subscribing to YES, MLB.com and/or Amazon.  Respectfully, more than anyone like Thorpe or even 2023 surprise Michael King could provide.

Yankee fans spoke not sotto voce, but Soto voce.  Loudly, boldly and demandingly.  Where this goes, or what this might cost in success, will be dealt with at some later date.  But at least they now have a reason to care once again, and perhaps, to cut Cashman and Hal some much needed slack.

Courage…

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