Soto trade takes centre stage
While Jays lose alleged target to New York, agent Boras says team still engaged with Chapman
After days of endless speculation surrounding the future of Shohei Ohtani, it was Juan Soto and his influential agent Scott Boras who ended up stealing the show at the conclusion of Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings.
Ohtani’s free-agent frenzy was put on hold Wednesday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort because the talk shifted to Soto and reports the New York Yankees had all but officially acquired him through trade.
The buzz conveniently began a few hours before Boras was scheduled to host his annual media availability on Wednesday morning. Multiple reports out of New York indicated the once-stalled trade talks between the Yankees and Padres had resumed and were entering the final stage.
That provided Boras with the attention he so clearly craves. When he began talking at noon eastern, the 71-year-old was surrounded by a swarm of reporters that went at least five or six rows deep. There were so many people that those stuck at the back could barely see him above the crowd, let alone hear.
The spectacle seemed fitting. Boras, as baseball’s most powerful agent, figures prominently into every MLB off-season. This winter is no different as he represents multiple upper-tier free agents such as Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery.
But he doesn’t represent Ohtani and that’s who everyone in the baseball world has been focused on lately. At least they were, until the Soto rumours began to gain traction and put the Yankees on the verge of pulling off a significant trade that temporarily stole all the headlines.
That provided Boras with an opportunity to step back into the spotlight and he took it.
“Anytime you have a 1.200 or 1.300 OPS anywhere, you enjoy it,” Boras said when asked what Soto thought about Yankee Stadium. “And the good thing for Juan Soto is he does that at a number of ballparks, but Yankee Stadium is one of them.
“I don’t know if it’s his favourite, but when you’re Juan Soto, you kind of show up and every ballpark is a favourite. I know he hits well there.”
Pitching was what the Padres wanted in any trade, and they might be getting a lot of it from the Yankees. Jack Curry of YES Network was the first to report the deal is expected to include right-handers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Randy Vasquez, Jhony Brito and catcher Kyle Higashioka. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, the deal was done late Wednesday night.
That would be a strong return for a player in Soto who is set to test free agency at the end of 2024. King appeared to figure things out last season after transitioning from the bullpen. He posted a 2.23 ERA across nine starts, two of which came against the Jays. Thorpe was ranked the fifth-best prospect in the Yankees system by MLB Pipeline, Vasquez was No. 13 and Brito only exceeded rookie limits in 2023.
The Blue Jays were at one point rumoured to be among the finalists for Soto, but they would have struggled to match that offer. Assuming top prospect Ricky Tiedemann is staying put, they needed to sell the Padres on a bounceback season from Alek Manoah and they wouldn’t have had as many bigleague ready depth pieces to toss in.
The latest development means the Jays’ dream of signing Ohtani was still on the table late Wednesday night, but so too was the nightmare scenario of the game’s top free agent going elsewhere and a division rival like the Yankees swooping in to take Soto.
“It’s not something that I think weighs too heavily on us,” Jays assistant general manager Mike Murov said when asked about opposing teams in the AL East making moves, which included the Yankees acquiring outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Red Sox. “We’re probably worried about our own house, first and foremost.
“I don’t think it’s one thing where, OK this team’s win projection changed from 84-86. I don’t think we’re doing live playoff odds based on adds. That’s just not where we’ve spent our energy.”
The first several minutes of Boras’ media availability were focused on Soto, but eventually the subject turned to other clients. Most notably for the Toronto market, he confirmed the Jays have remained in “consistent contact” regarding Chapman throughout the off-season.
There has been talk at these winter meetings that Chapman has been seeking more than $200 million (U.S.) on his next deal. That doesn’t mean he’ll get it, but it never hurts to try. Anything close to that likely would exceed the Jays’ comfort level.
“The third base market, it’s usually one way or the other, there’s either some power, or there’s some defence,” Boras said.
“Getting both, getting a platinumlevel player like that ... and getting power, you find that owners are a little bit, they’re upset. They’re Chapped-man.”
In 2018, Boras used his platform at the winter meetings to launch a surprise attack against the Jays. He claimed the organization suffered from a case of “blue flu” and that a recent drop in attendance was directly related to a dip in payroll.
These days, the relationship is much friendlier. While the Jays appear to have missed out on Soto, they previously signed his clients Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yusei Kikuchi to lucrative multi-year deals.
Boras knows ownership group Rogers Communications is flush with cash and he wants some of it. So, no more pot shots. Just praise, albeit in cheesy ways.
“Certainly, their bird feeder has arrived and they’re spreading their seeds throughout Canada, no doubt,” Boras said.
The package that apparently isn’t getting delivered to Toronto includes Soto. One of the sport’s most prolific bats is instead likely headed to The Bronx.
Jays fans can handle that if their team lands Ohtani in the coming days. But if they come up short, this winter risks becoming an even bigger disappointment than the 2023 season.
One mega-impact player is off the board. One is still left. For the Jays, it’s boom or bust on Ohtani.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited