Juan Soto prioritizing present with Yankees while future hangs in the air

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Juan Soto didn’t give much away. 

There wasn’t a remark or a gesture that told us he’ll be a Yankee for life. There were no tea leaves that suggested he’s even looking forward to exploring free agency. We’re all wondering how committed the Yankees’ big offseason acquisition is to staying in the Bronx long term. But Soto was neutral, likely because his concrete thoughts and strong feelings on the subject will develop over the course of the next year. 

The Yankees, after months of pursuit, completed their trade for Soto at the end of last week’s winter meetings. New York sent five players, including prized right-hander Michael King, to the Padres in exchange for one year, at minimum, of Soto in pinstripes. The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic native will become a free agent after the 2024 season. The Yankees have roughly 11 months — a period they are determined to commemorate with a championship — to influence Soto to stay.

Soto got his first taste of being a Yankee on Tuesday, when he was made available by the team in a Zoom conference while residing in Miami. The undaunted 25-year-old wore a Yankees fitted cap and a No. 22 gold chain around his neck to go with his blue-patterned shirt. He smiled often, and touched the brim of his cap while answering questions, the majority of which were centered around his future. 

“My priorities right now is just, get to know the team, get to know the guys,” Soto said. “For me, I’m going to the team, to New York, to Tampa, whenever I’m going to meet those guys, and try to get a real good relationship and try to really stick together, get to know those guys, and try to push, try to get the same goal as they want. That’s what my main thing is right now. 

“About any contract stuff, they know where to call and who to talk to. I’m here just to play baseball and try to keep concentrating [on] playing baseball.”

Soto said he’s looking forward to winning a championship with the Yankees and playing in front of a large contingent of fans who are from the Dominican Republic. The lefty slugger enjoys hitting at Yankee Stadium — “It’s a great batter’s box,” Soto said, “I’m not going to lie.” — and that he won’t change his swing to take advantage of the short porch in right field. His approach at the plate has generated a phenomenal 157 OPS+ through six seasons, so he has no intentions of altering it. 

Aaron Judge was one of the first players to reach out to Soto after the trade was finalized. Gleyber Torres, Anthony Rizzo and Gerrit Cole also connected with the superstar to say congratulations and begin welcoming him to the Yanks. Soto said players reaching out meant a lot to him. It was special for Soto to learn directly from his new teammates how excited they are to play with him.

“I’m gonna be more than excited to share the field with him,” Soto said in response to playing alongside Judge. “He seems like a great guy. One of the guys that reached out to me whenever I got traded. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun to see him play, hitting, and in the outfield. I’ll try to pick his mind when I’m there, and try to enjoy the moment while I’m there.”

In all likelihood, Soto didn’t mean anything by the way he ended those last two sentences. English is his second language, Spanish his first. It’s possible he was just explaining that he’ll pick Judge’s brain and enjoy being a Yankee once spring training and the season actually begins next year. It’s also possible that by saying “while I’m there,” Soto was acknowledging that the 2024 season with the Yankees is literally the only thing he can count as a certainty right now. No one knows where he’ll end up signing, even if that decision comes down to staying in the Bronx. But, at the very least, he’s fully expected to test free agency next winter, as Scott Boras clients are wont to do. 

Yankees trade for Juan Soto, becoming American League favorites

Yankees trade for Juan Soto, becoming American League favorites

Ultimately, Soto was careful yet laid back with his responses, offering no hints about his long-term plans. When asked how he will handle his now-Yankees teammates, like Judge and Cole, persuading him to stay, Soto made it clear he’s not concerned about that. 

“I think that’s not their job,” he said. “I think that’s somebody else’s job. I think we’re here to make friends, to make good relationships and try to play good baseball.”

The Yankees have always seemed like a natural home for Soto. One of the game’s most talented pure hitters, Soto could command a long-term contract nearing or exceeding $500 million. Just last year, he turned down a reported 15-year, $440 million extension from the Nationals, prompting his trade to San Diego. A handful of teams are expected to be in the Soto sweepstakes next offseason, chief among them Steve Cohen’s Mets. 

If the four-time Silver Slugger continues raking, he’ll be offered more than $40 million annually. If the Yankees win their 28th World Series title next fall, a long-term pact between these two parties becomes more likely. 

“It’s just a great vibe, a great feeling to be playing in New York,” Soto said. “That stadium, the fans, the crowd, is just incredible. Even when they weren’t cheering for me — they were really booing me and everything — I really enjoyed my time there. It was pretty cool for me. It was a great experience.”

No kidding. Soto has played in just seven games in the Bronx — and he’s hit four homers with a 1.219 OPS.

Those bright lights will hit differently in 2024, the pressure palpable — on both Soto and the Yankees, as they look to maximize their upcoming season together while keeping an intent eye on next winter. There are only 107 days until Opening Day, when perhaps the future will begin to reveal itself. 

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar. 

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