As a special team supervisor in 1998, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman rightly bet on the trading deadline that he could win a title without giving Seattle what it wants to Randy Johnson. Cashman now faces similar circumstances with the Nationals and Juan Soto, but only this time the call is more difficult.
In 1998, Cashman knew the core of the Yankees could win it all without Johnson, because they had done so two years earlier. General Motors has no such comfort this summer. His team hasn’t won a major championship since 2009, and given the history and expectations that define the franchise, that “dry” championship feels like it’s long been the Gates (January 1969) and Knicks (May 1973).
Cashman has seen it all in a quarter century of being in action, and frankly, I don’t think we’ll learn much about it between now and 6pm on August 2. A package titled Anthony Volpi It is a price worth paying for Soto. But if GM reaches interim terms with his Washington counterpart, Mike Rizzo, I think we’ll learn something about Hal Steinbrenner.
As in, how badly a Yankee owner wants to win.
Yes, of course, everyone wants to win. But there is a big difference between saying you want to win and acting like you need to win. Steinbrenner’s decision on agreeing to the Soto acquisition and a potential half-billion dollar contract to come after 2024 — plus a potential monster contract for Aaron Judge and current monster deals for Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton — will determine which camp he’s in.
At first, understand that hiring the 23-year-old Soto for three postseason runs alone would do anything Rizzo could ask for. Now at the Double-A ball, 21-year-old Volpi might be the Yankees’ short-lived long-range cast from the acting center as the super talented Jersey Boy who once loved Derek Jeter.
But measuring its height requires some educated guesswork. There’s no educated guess with Soto, who has already delivered, by Volpi’s current age, a season of 34 Homer, 110-RBI in Seniors and three, and a performance of 7-RBI in the winning World Series. Soto only needs to drive four balls over the fence to get more home runs before his 24th birthday than the other player who got into the sport hard at the age of 19. A kid named Mickey Mantle.
Soto would be a thing with that right porch in the Bronx. He also draws more runs than anyone else in baseball, which gives him a better career percentage on the base (.427) than Mantle or Mike Trout. And the fact that he could absorb an extended media questioning about the 15-year-old Citizens’ $440 million offer he turned down, then won the Home Run hours later, suggests…well…what everything else on his resume indicates:
That the Yankees (64-28) with Sotos would be a near-death and tax closure in the postseason to beat Houston and anyone else in their path. Oh, and that the Judge and Soto-sponsored Yankees would have a chance of winning several titles, ’90s style.
Assuming the property is willing to pay both.
Although Hal Steinbrenner isn’t Steve Cohen, no matter Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, when it comes to net worth, the family-run Yankees are still worth $6 billion (and closer to $7 billion when factored into the YES network and other property), according to Forbes. That makes their valuation about $2 billion more than the Dodgers and $3.35 billion more than the Mets, and those teams are committed to paying more than $250 million in salaries to the Yankees, according to Spotrac.
Steinbrenner said in the spring that it’s his responsibility every year to “make sure we’re financially responsible. I have a lot of partners, banks, bondholders and things like that to answer. But at the same time, the goal is always to win the championship.”
If that’s the goal, landing in Soto at the dawn of his fame is the best knockout blow. Soto is not Kevin Durant, who will be 34 on opening night in the fall. But he’s good enough to be a franchise player long after Judge, Stanton, and Cole started to decline.
Given the value of the Yankees, this shouldn’t be a connection either/or between Judge and Soto, though the latter would be one hell of an insurance policy if the ex were in free agency. Judge took a contract in the Far North from a seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer which he turned down in the spring, and Steinbrenner should give it to him.
The owner will then have two years to figure out how to pay about $500 million for Soto on top of that, assuming the player continues to play the way he does.
So, if Cashman and Rizzo can agree on an All-Star value, Steinbrenner should be willing to take up Patrick Corbin’s contract and sacrifice the salary balance afforded to Yankees prospects in their early years on the roster.
In the end, as unfair as it may be to compare Steinbrenner forever to his father, a flawed man and leader, there is no doubt what George Steinbrenner will do here. He would have added Soto to Judge just as he once added Alex Rodriguez to Jeter.
Hal Steinbrenner may soon have a chance to get a really big check, or two, and whether or not he did it will tell a lot about him.