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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Juan Soto already looks tailor-made for New York, Yankees

HOUSTON — Juan Soto’s wonderful first two games in pinstripes represent only the beginning of what promises to be a very long and glorious stay in New York. 

It should be quite the ride

Soto’s batting brilliance is something to behold, and the multiple on-base-percentage league leader reached base seven of his first 10 plate appearances in pinstripes as Soto’s Yankees made it two straight victories here in this former house of horrors. He’s a hitting prodigy for the ages, although he kindly and fairly named two others as the best in the game right now (more on that below.) 

And unless something unexpected happens — and in free agency, I guess you never know — the guess here is that he will be enjoyed by New Yorkers for the next decade, maybe decade and a half. 

If I were a betting man — and as we all know by now, betting isn’t well received in baseball — I’d say he’s a New Yorker forever, and for good. 

The real question may be which borough he will be working in. 

Juan Soto has looked strong in his first two Yankees games. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Yankees didn’t trade almost all their rotation depth to rent this young wunderkind. He followed the game-saving heroics in Game 1 by doubling off the wall, singling twice, walking and making a diving catch in the 7-1 win late Friday night. 

At this rate the Yankees can’t let him leave. But if he does go, the most logical landing spot is only eight miles to the south and east in Queens with the Mets

Free agency is usually tough to prognosticate, but when it comes to a $500 million player — Soto turned down $440M (over 14 years) — the field is more predictable. 

The reason is obvious. Only a few teams can afford half a billion. 

Juan Soto has impressed on both sides of the ball. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

When I suggested to Soto it has to be a limited field, saying, “Look it’s not going to be Kansas City?” he responded, “Why not? They could.” 

It’s true that a few more teams than the most obvious — the Jays, for instance — did bid big on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, but Ohtani’s a once-in-a-lifetime marketing opportunity. Not too many are going to shell out $500M for a hitter (and fairly, an improved outfielder, as he showed in saving the Yankees’ opener against hated Houston). 

The Dodgers can afford him, but maybe they shot their shot by shelling out a billion on Ohtani, plus others. 

The Red Sox are on an all-time austerity kick. 

The Cubs know they’ll be beloved by their fans without breaking the bank. 

The Phillies are all good for left-handed sluggers (although if Bryce Harper asks nicely, who knows?) 

Soto mentioned he does like hitting here and in Philly, for what it’s worth. But as of today, New York is the favorite, both 1 and 1A — the richest team vs. the richest owner. 

Juan Soto and the Yankees are off to an impressive 2-0 start. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Mets are in a transition year now, but they are expected to go for it next winter. Hints are being heard now, too, that Soto is right up the Mets’ alley, as we first noted almost immediately upon his arrival in pinstripes, way back at the winter meetings. The fans want Pete Alonso back, but Mets number-crunchers are more likely to covet Soto, who’s four years younger. 

The metric men are supreme ageists, which explains why six teams offered $300M or more (plus posting fee) to the smallish right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who’d never even recorded one out in a big-league game. Yep, at 25, Soto’s an analytics darling. 

Since Soto hasn’t even gotten to New York yet — he spent 45 days in Tampa then skipped Mexico City to perfect a swing that’s already perfect, before heading here — it’s a tiny bit early to ask him his thoughts on which borough he prefers. But I can tell you this after getting to know him in spring: He’s a fit for The Big Apple. 

He’s a very nice fellow (which matters a little) who has uncommon stones (which matters a lot). While other Yankees stars were too polite to say out loud that they wanted Hal Steinbrenner to sign top free agent starter Blake Snell in spring, Soto went on the record stumping for Snell. 

Yankees writers are going to love this guy. He’s smart enough to know where he stands. 

I asked Soto if he’s the best hitter in baseball before his debut, and he fairly opined that that’s between Judge and Yordan Alvarez. “Judge is the best right-handed hitter, Alvarez the best left-handed hitter,” Soto said. 

Juan Soto of the New York Yankees slides into second base on his double during the 8th inning. Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

I think he’s right, too. My widely panned hitter rankings had Soto third, behind Judge (1) and Alvarez (2) and slightly ahead of Freddie Freeman, Corey Seager, Ohtani, Mookie Betts and Ronald Acuna Jr. 

“I never hit 62 home runs,” Soto said to explain why he wouldn’t qualify for the top spot. 

Maybe so. But what separates Soto is this: He’ll still be 25 when he hits free agency. His prime may carry into the middle of the next decade. 

And we should get to enjoy the exploits, in one borough or the other.

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