MLB Winter Meetings: Juan Soto is a Yankee, Shohei Ohtani’s free agency continues and more takeaways

The noun Major League Baseball Winter Meetings contains five capitalized words, so you immediately know that it is of great importance. And it’s over – this year’s edition anyway.

Yes, Nashville’s protracted industry hootenanny ended on Thursday, and that means it’s time for some partially forced reactions to what happened over those four or five days, depending on how you count the start and end dates. No, it wasn’t the craziest Winter Meeting in the annals of such things, but important transactions fell through, momentum built, foundations were laid, hands were shaken, and completely misleading expense reports were presented.

So to give you a bird’s-eye view and set the stage for the (huge) remainder of the offseason, let’s unpack a few takeaways from the Winter Meetings for your cheer and enrichment. Immediately…

1. It was mostly slow

While we did see a handful of minor signings and trades, the Winter Meetings were largely uneventful, save for the blockbuster noted below. Sometimes that happens. The winter meetings aren’t the entire MLB offseason, after all, and let’s not forget that Aaron Nola (Phillies) and Sonny Gray (Cardinals) were taken off the board before the calendar even flipped to December. However, given all the hype surrounding the Winter Meetings, it’s easy to be surprised when headline after headline doesn’t drop.

There is good news, and the good news is that we have plenty of free agents and trade candidates still available to hire and acquire, and the abundance is such that it will help us survive the non-baseball space ahead of us. Most notably, the game’s biggest star, Shohei Ohtani (more on him in a bit), is still looking for his next employer, but that’s just the beginning. Check out our relentlessly updated free agent tracker for the 2023-24 offseason and you’ll find that a whopping 43 of our top 50 free agents remain unsigned. Additionally, our top four free agents and eight of our top 10 are still available. That’s not to mention potential trade candidates like Tyler Glasnow, Dylan Seaz, Corbin Burns, Shane Bieber and possibly others who are (reportedly) still being talked about to varying degrees. Yes, the Winter Meetings were a disappointment, but the bottom line is that almost all the action is still ahead of us. This is good news as we begin to turn our eyes to the darkest winter yet.

2. The Yankees and Padres hit a blockbuster

The Yankees bolstered their outfield by adding not one, but two left-handed hitting fly catchers whose last names end in “o.” The Alex Verdugo trade was notable because the Yankees’ trading partner was their blood rival in Boston. The big news, though, was that the Yankees added Juan Soto in a big seven-player trade with the Padres. In Soto, who is entering his age-25 season, the Yankees get one of the best catch-and-rake hitters in all of baseball (which is another way of saying, well, one of the best hitters in baseball). He’s a perfect complement to Yankees franchise player Aaron Judge and is exactly the offensive boost the club badly needed to get back into contention. The 2024 season will be Soto’s walk year, meaning a leading subplot will be whether the Yankees can extend him before he hits free agency (probably not the assumption here).

As for the downsizing Padres, they are clearing Soto’s salary in his final year of arbitration eligibility, which will likely exceed $30 million for next season. They also added MLB-ready or near-MLB-ready stock to mitigate the likely free agent losses of key weapons like Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, and Josh Hader (all still available!). No doubt, the Padres screwed up in 2024 by trading Soto, but at least they got something for him considering they had little chance of re-signing him after 2024.

However you enter the trade, it is tracked as one of the biggest ever made by a franchise that is no stranger to blockbusters.

3. The Ohtani plot thickened

It’s likely that at some point soon, two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani will pick his next team and sign the biggest contract in MLB history — perhaps one worth more than $500 million. No doubt the league was hoping Ohtani would put ink to paper during the Winter Meetings, but that didn’t happen. What happened, however, is a bit of a fascinating intrigue. To wit:

  • Dodgers manager Dave Roberts may have earned himself a talking point by revealing his club’s meeting with the two-way superstar that Ohtani’s camp wanted to keep secret.
  • The Blue Jays and GM Ross Atkins were careful not to alert reporters or anyone else that they appeared to have met with Ohtani at the team’s spring training facility in Florida. Inevitably, citizen journalists rose up:

The smart money is on the Dodgers, of course, and we’ll soon find out if the long-awaited becomes a reality. A slight sprinkling of intrigue is certainly appreciated, however, and an Ohtani stunner remains possible.

4. The Yamamoto Derby is underway

The best free agent available not named Shohei Ohtani is Japan’s Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The 25-year-old right-hander combines youth with ace stuff and ace results, and any team could use that kind of long-term upside in the rotation. He is rightly coveted and has a chance to get a $300 million commitment before you even factor in the posting fee owed to his NPB team, the Orix Buffaloes. The Winter Meetings brought us convincing blows on this vital front.

Most notably, Mets owner Steve Cohen met face-to-face with Yamamoto in Japan. That passes the test, as the Mets badly need rotation help after dealing Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer at the deadline, and Cohen is of course willing and able to spend among MLB owners. The Yankees have strong plans to get YamaSoto him in the Bronx, and other interested squadrons we’ve learned about or confirmed in recent days include the Giants, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs. It’s unclear if Yamamoto is waiting for clarity on Ohtani, but posting rules mean he must sign with an MLB team by Jan. 4 or return to Orix. Given that face-to-face meetings with suitors are coming up, he’ll probably make his choice soon.

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