Is Juan Soto, the headliner who changed teams during the Winter Meetings, back to being a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in points-based fantasy baseball leagues?
Soto, acquired alongside fellow outfielder Trent Grisham by the New York Yankees from the San Diego Padres in exchange for starting pitchers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez and catcher Kyle Higashioka, will surely generate that level of buzz now that he'll be wearing pinstripes.
That's rightfully so, considering his 90th-plus-percentile raw power metrics, penchant for walks and Yankee Stadium's cozy confines potentially boosting his home runs, RBIs and runs scored.
Yes, Soto's first-overall-pick ceiling returns -- if it ever really left -- exemplified by his record five seasons of a .400-plus (qualified) on-base percentage and tied-for-seventh 160 homers before his 25th birthday, mere 17.1% career strikeout rate, and new surroundings in one of the game's friendliest environments for left-handed hitters.
His defense might be a liability -- Gerrit Cole et al's fantasy managers might grumble at his occasionally poor defensive play -- but everything else about him aligns for fantasy greatness, meaning top-five points and near-first-round rotisserie value. Note that those, as any draft valuation should, estimates his median-outcome worth.
Grisham, projected to earn roughly $5 million as an arbitration-eligible and therefore included in a cost-cutting move, becomes a defensive backup and insurance policy -- Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, as you know, have reputations for missing time due to injuries -- who falls off the mixed-league fantasy radar. Grisham was a .191/.300/.347 hitter with a 28.2% strikeout rate the past two seasons, so while his swing might be a better fit for Yankee Stadium than most any other venue, the odds that he'd dramatically improve those numbers remain long.
Speaking of Judge's injury history, he'll shift full-time to center field, where he's a solid defender (though not as good as in right field), which could heighten those odds somewhat. That'd be more than offset by the lineup improvement that Soto's arrival presents, as Judge's RBI total could significantly benefit if the Yankees use a Soto-Judge 2-3 in the order as expected.
Alex Verdugo, acquired late Tuesday night, would shift to left field, where he'd probably lose some at-bats to a right-handed bat against tough lefties or on occasion to Grisham. Verdugo's fantasy value would only decline comparative to at the moment of his acquisition because he'll now more likely bat sixth or seventh in the lineup, and that means a handful fewer at-bats than had be hit second.
On the Padres' side, King's emergence as a bona fide top-40 caliber fantasy starter puts him on a similar track, and he'll now trade Yankee Stadium's homer-friendly confines for Petco Park's much more pitching-oriented dimensions. If you were a believer in King, as I am (other than questions about his 2024 innings total), there's every reason to bump him up a few spots in the starting-pitching rankings.
Brito and Vasquez, who filled in for Yankees rotation injuries and occasionally delivered decent outings throughout 2023, should be matchups-oriented picks in deeper mixed or NL-only leagues. Either could move up in the rankings with a standout spring training.
Thorpe, a second-round pick in 2022 who had a 2.52 ERA, 34.0% strikeout rate and averaged 6.1 innings across 23 starts between Class A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset last season, could make his major league debut with a hot start in the high minors in 2024. He's a changeup-oriented pitcher who nevertheless generates a good amount of strikeouts, so he's worth keeping on a list of prospective fantasy-relevant prospects who might make their debuts.