Soto has the potential to be one of the biggest trade acquisitions in the storied history of the Yankees. Complicating matters here would be Soto's free agency after the 2024 season. Barring disaster next year, surely the Yankees would have a leg up in retaining his services and we know they have the financial wherewithal.
Still, let's put that aside and just figure out where Soto ranks in the esteemed history of the Yankees among other mega-name trade acquisitions. We aren't talking about free agency, so this leaves out names like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter or Dave Winfield. We're just looking for the biggest names for whom the Yankees have ever traded.
We'll go with a top 10.
Honorable mention: Red Ruffing, Sparky Lyle, Scott Brosius, Roger Maris, Paul O'Neill, Curtis Granderson
Again, we're ranking how big the player was when he was traded. Maris was a one-time All-Star at the time of the deal but then won back-to-back MVPs with the Yankees. His stature grew significantly after the trade. Similar sentiment would be applied to the others on this list.
10. Tino Martinez
Heading into 1996, the Yankees had to replace a franchise legend at first base in Don Mattingly. The plan was to grab an All-Star from Seattle named Tino Martinez. The Yankees sent Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock to the Mariners for Jim Mecir, Jeff Nelson and Martinez.
Martinez, the 1988 first-round draft pick, was a top-20 prospect when he arrived in Seattle. In 1995, he hit .293 with a 135 OPS+, 35 doubles, 31 homers and 111 RBI, making the All-Star team for the first time. His star would rise with an incredibly successful stint in the Bronx, but he was a star when they acquired him, albeit a much smaller star than Soto is now.
9. David Justice
When the Yankees traded for Justice in June 2000 (sending Zach Day, Ricky Ledee and Jake Westbrook to Cleveland), he already had 21 homers and 58 RBI in 68 games. He was already a three-time All-Star with two top-five MVP finishes and 77 games of postseason experience, including a World Series title with the 1995 Braves.
In contrast to Soto, Justice was 34 years old and clearly entering the decline phase of his career. Still, he was a huge name in baseball at the time.
8. Bobby Abreu
While Abreu was good with the Yankees, his time with the club ended up being somewhat forgettable. Still, we're only talking about how big of a deal the player was when the Yankees traded for him and Abreu was a major needle-mover. He had already racked up seven 5.0+ WAR seasons in his career and was in his age-32 season when the Yankees traded C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith for him and Cory Lidle on July 30, 2006.
This was a two-time All-Star with a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger who was greatly under-appreciated in his time. He hit .303/.416/.513 (139 OPS+) in his nine years with the Phillies before the trade and had driven home at least 100 runs in four of his previous five seasons.
7. Juan Soto
Soto is, at present, on a Hall of Fame track. Through his age-24 season, he already has 768 hits, 160 home runs, 483 RBI and 527 runs while having slashed .284/.421/.524 (157 OPS+). He already has a batting title, four top-10 finishes in MVP voting (including two top-five finishes and a runner-up). He's won a World Series ring and hit .333/.438/.741 with two homers and seven RBI in that seven-game series.
Just to put things in perspective ...
- Soto is younger than Adley Rutschman and already has six seasons under his belt.
- He has a better career OPS+ than Frank Thomas, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays, among many other Hall of Famers.
- Among the top 10 statistical similar players to Soto through age 24 are Bryce Harper, Frank Robinson, Mike Trout, Ken Griffey Jr, Miguel Cabrera and Eddie Mathews.
I wouldn't argue with anyone wanting to rank Soto higher. It's possible this is conservative.
6. David Cone
On July 28, 1995, there was great fanfare around the Yankees trading Mike Gordon, Jason Jarvis and Marty Janzen for Cone (the "Coneheads!"). He was a three-time All-Star who won the 1994 Cy Young and had previously finished third in Cy Young voting. He also won a ring as part of the Blue Jays' rotation in 1992.
Simply, this was an ace traded in the middle of his prime, fresh off a Cy Young. Still, I'd be fine with anyone arguing Soto should be ranked higher.
5. Rickey Henderson
In his first six seasons, Rickey led the majors in steals three times and led the AL five times. He set the MLB single-season record with 130 thefts in 1982. He was a four-time All-Star with an MVP runner-up, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. He had also led the league in hits, runs and walks. He was a .292 hitter with a .400 on-base percentage.
On Dec. 5, 1984, the A's shipped Henderson to the Yankees with Bert Bradley for Eric Plunk, Jay Howell, Stan Javier, Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas.
From 1980-84, Henderson averaged about 7.4 WAR per 162 games, an outrageously high figure. We know that now. And while he was a mega-star at the time, the OBP and other non-power things Rickey did at the time weren't quite as appreciated as they are today. That is to say that the baseball world in 2023 probably views this trade as bigger deal than the baseball world did in 1984.
For the purposes of this exercise, you have to ignore everything that has happened with Stanton's career after the trade. We're talking about December of 2017 when the Yankees sent Starlin Castro, Jose Devers and Jorge Guzman to the Marlins for Stanton.
Giancarlo was coming off his age-27 season in which he won the NL MVP and made the All-Star team for the fourth time. He also had an MVP runner-up. In 2017, he hit .281/.376/.631 (169 OPS+) with 59 homers and 132 RBI. He already had 267 career home runs in 986 games.
At the time of the trade, Stanton was the marquee slugger in baseball. It's not often an MVP gets traded about a month after securing the hardware, either.
Obviously, Rickey Henderson ended up with a much better career than Stanton will, but at the time of the respective trades, Stanton was perceived as a more significant player than the perpetually (at the time) underrated Rickey was.
3. Roger Clemens
For most other franchises, this would be No. 1.
It was Feb. 18, 1999 when the defending champion Yankees dealt David Wells, Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd to the Blue Jays for Clemens. At the time, Clemens was coming off back-to-back Cy Youngs, running his career total to five and establishing a new record (Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton had previously won four apiece). The former MVP (yes, he had one of those, too) had led his league in ERA six times.
It's reasonable to argue Clemens was the best pitcher ever traded at the time of the deal.
2. Alex Rodríguez
When the Yankees traded for A-Rod, he wasn't just on a Hall of Fame path. He was on his way to becoming the greatest baseball player in history (again, we're only going on what we knew at the time). He won MVP his last year with the Rangers and had led the league in homers three straight years. His average season from the previous six years: .305/.388/.599 (150 OPS+), 47 homers, 127 RBI, 125 runs, 8.2 WAR. All this from an elite-level defensive shortstop who also stole plenty of bases.
Once a proposed deal with the Red Sox fell through, the Yankees grabbed A-Rod for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later (Joaquin Arias, eventually). The "Evil Empire," indeed.
1. Babe Ruth
Ruth had already helped the Red Sox win three World Series titles, had posted two 20-win seasons on the mound and led the AL in ERA in 1916, but it was the longball that made him a national sensation. His star actually grew with the Yankees, yes, but he was already, by far, the biggest draw in all of baseball. The Red Sox set attendance records prior to this deal due mostly to Ruth. He led the majors in homers in 1918 despite only 317 at-bats. In 1919, he set the new MLB record with 29 homers. No one in the AL had ever hit more than 16 in a season at the time.
Ah yes, the deal. The Red Sox famously/notoriously sold Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 (technically a trade).
And the course of baseball history was altered for two franchises and, really, Major League Baseball as a whole.
The Juan Soto deal isn't a Richter-shattering MLB earthquake like that, but it's certainly one of the 10 biggest trades in the history of the Yankees. In and of itself, it's quite a tremor.