Juan Soto spoke with reporters Tuesday as a member of the New York Yankees. He sat in front of a blank wall and a camera wearing street clothes, with little pomp and circumstance, a quick press session that offered comically little insight into the seismic shift that had taken place for player and franchise. The only thing noteworthy about the setup was the hat on Soto’s head, a classic Yankees cap, the one he will wear for the first — and perhaps last — time this season.
“It definitely fits different,” Soto admitted, and indeed, with all due respect to the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres, few hats in baseball are heavier than that one.
Soto officially became a Yankee last week when the Padres, convinced they did not have the financial space to thrive with him in the short term or keep him in the long term, traded him to New York for a package of five players. Although he is just 25 years old and one of the most prolific left-handed hitters in the sport, the Yankees will be Soto’s third team. And mere minutes into his first appearance as a Yankee, he was fielding questions about whether he would be open to making them his last.
“My priorities right now is get to know the team, get to know the guys, really,” Soto said, when the second question of his afternoon centered on his willingness to sign with the Yankees when he hits free agency next winter. “ … about any contract stuff, they know where to call and who to talk to. I’m here just to play baseball and just try to keep concentrate and playing baseball.”
In Soto’s case, the man to talk to is Scott Boras, his agent, who was also on that Zoom call — presumably just in case. It was under Boras’s guidance that Soto turned down the $440 million deal the Washington Nationals offered him in 2022, prompting what Soto admitted later was a gut-wrenching trade to San Diego. And it is because of Boras’s guidance that signing a long-term extension in the Bronx never seemed likely to follow quickly on the heels of Soto’s arrival there. The accepted reality, for both the Yankees and their new star outfielder, is that the 2024 season likely amounts to something of a trial period.
“We just got to get to know the organization, get to know the team. Right now, I’m more than excited to get there and see those guys — see how big is Aaron Judge and [Giancarlo] Stanton,” Soto said with a laugh. “It’s going to be pretty cool. So that’s what I’m looking for right now, just to get comfortable on the team and watch how it’s gonna be.”
Soto said Judge, like Gleyber Torres and Anthony Rizzo and Gerrit Cole, reached out to him after the trade. He gushed about the idea of playing alongside Judge, but also seemingly went out of his way to acknowledge the pairing might be temporary.
“It’s going to be exciting, man. It’s going to be fun, really fun to see him play hitting and playing outfield,” Soto said. “[I’ll be] trying to pick his mind while I’m there and try to enjoy the moment while I’m there.”
The “while I’m there” was implied in several of Soto’s answers, meaning that whether calculated or subconscious, the lack of certainty long-term is top of mind. Asked about his feelings about joining the Yankees, for example, Soto said “it’s just great” before continuing.
“It’s really exciting to see this organization and try to be part of it for the next season,” he said.
But Soto, as much as any major trade acquisition the Yankees have made in recent years, seems to have good reason to believe he can thrive there. He has family in New York, uncles on both sides, and many longtime family friends from the Dominican Republic. The Bronx has a large Dominican population, the largest of any city Soto has called home during his career. And both numerically and anecdotally, he seems to love the New York stage.
“It’s always good to see the family and friends I have in New York,” said Soto, who said even the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium is one he enjoys stepping into. “ … just a great vibe, a great feeling to be playing in New York in that stadium with the fans, the crowd is just incredible. Even when they weren’t cheering for me, they were booing me and everything, I really enjoyed my time there.”
Plus, Yankee Stadium has a notoriously short porch in right field, one no Yankee has really made his own in recent years, as their lineup has been heavy on right-handed power and light on left-handed depth. Soto made himself into one of the game’s more productive hitters by relying on his rare opposite-field power and is at his best when he is trying to hit low line drives up the middle or to left-center. Perhaps the short porch will make him overeager. He says he intends not to think about it much at all.
“We all know that there’s a really short porch right there and it’s going to be on your mind, but definitely I’m going to try to stay in the same approach I’ve been doing. That’s what takes me to where I’m at right now, so I think there’s no reason to change it.” Soto said. “I think I’m going to try to do the same thing, and if I get a chance to pull any ball and hit it that way, that’s fine for me. But definitely, like you say, my strength is going to left-center and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
At times during his tenure in San Diego, Soto seemed to be trying too hard to impress, pulling the ball too much, a little less able to stay within himself than he had been in Washington, where he had less to prove. And though he is now a wise, old 25, a slightly younger version of him was visibly affected by the contract talks two years ago that preceded the Nationals-Padres trade. The pressure, and the temptation to try to do too much to meet it, will be as high in New York as it has ever been for Soto. But he said Tuesday that he does not expect the idea of a long-term deal to test him. After all, he has now seen all that before.
“I’ve been doing it for six years now. I think it’s not going to be that hard because I have one of the best agents in the league,” Soto said. “I put everything on him and let him do his magic. My mind-set is just to come here and play baseball and try to win a championship.”