BALTIMORE — Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole has been part of a few special trade deadlines in Houston, but nothing tops the surprising addition of starter Zack Greinke in 2019. The Greinke trade from Arizona rocked baseball, transpiring over the previous 24 hours and officially done just minutes before the 4 pm deadline.
“It was a huge emotional swing,” Cole recalled Friday before the Yankees opened up a three-game series in Baltimore. “It was announced after the deadline, so we were bummed that nothing happened before the deadline and then (former Astros manager) AJ (Hinch) came in with a big shit-eating grin, and he was like, ‘Yo boys, we got Greenke!’ and the mood changed.”
Houston had won that trade deadline and the Astros rode that momentum into their second World Series appearance in three seasons. Blockbuster trade deadline deals can be a shot in the arm for a clubhouse, Cole has seen this firsthand. And the star right-hander is hoping the Yankees can deliver something in the next 10 days to put this year’s first-place team over the top.
“That’s been my experience,” Cole said of big additions bolstering morale, “So hopefully, we get what we are looking for. I think we are going to probably exhaust every single option we have. We need to do that, we need to exhaust every option. That’s the feeling I get (in the Yankees organization), and what everyone feels like we need to do.”
Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is the clear prize of this year’s deadline and sources confirmed to The Athletic that the Yankees are among the teams interested in the 23-year-old star, who isn’t a free agent until 2025. Washington has begun preliminary trade talks with multiple teams ahead of the Aug. 2 deadline and while the Nationals haven’t been impressed with early offers, the closer the deadline gets, the more things can change. Greinke, for example, wasn’t even a possibility for Houston until the day before the deadline.
To get Soto, whose accolades include two Silver Sluggers and a batting title, and he was last year’s runner-up National League MVP, teams may have to empty their farm system’s upper echelon. Though at 23, Soto isn’t much older than many top prospects and he’s already proven himself to be a star — perhaps a generational hitter — amassing a 21 WAR in his first five big-league seasons. The Yankees’ top two prospects, for example, Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, are 21 and 22, respectively. Of New York’s top eight prospects ranked in the preseason by Keith Law, only outfielder Jasson Dominguez is younger than 21. Soto won’t cost just prospects; He’s making $17.1 million this season and stands to get a significant raise next year in arbitration. But the Yankees have deep pockets and a deep farm system.
Any hypothetical acquisition of Soto immediately brings up the question of Yankees slugger Aaron Judge — who is a free agent at the end of the year — and his long-term future. But adding Soto wouldn’t preclude the Yankees from re-signing Judge. Soto has 2 1/2 years of team control and this is a win-now Yankees team. It would give them insurance if they fail to keep Judge, as locking up Soto — who turned down the Nationals’ offer of $440 million over 15 years — would then perhaps become a feasible option.
In the short-term, having Judge and Soto in the same lineup could be enough to help New York — which hasn’t won a World Series since 2009 — end that drought. Soto, part of the Nationals team that beat the 2019 Astros in the World Series, hit .333/.438/.741 with a 1.178 OPS and three homers in that series in his age-20 season. He delivered two of the Nationals’ most crucial hits earlier in that postseason — the game-winning base hit in the wild-card game and the game-tying home run in Game 5 of the NL Division Series. After a down a few games in the NL Championship Series, he hits in the cages until midnight after Game 3, making adjustments that would immediately show up on baseball’s biggest stage.
Soto has made it no secret that he loves the spotlight and loves playing in big cities like New York. Look no further than this year’s Home Run Derby in LA to see the bat-flipping, attention-loving confidence of Soto, who several times looked like he was on the ropes before winning the entire thing.
This season has been considered a down year by Soto’s standards, as he’s .250/.405/.497 with 20 home hits in 91 games for the last-place Nationals, with more walks (79) than hits (78). Soto entered Friday with a career-high 26-game on-base streak over which he’s posted a .505 OBP. He leads baseball in walks and ranks among the NL leaders in OBP (2nd, .405), wRC+ (3rd, 152), wOBA (4th, .391), and OPS (5th, .901).
The Yankees, who entered Friday 64-30 with a 12-game divisional lead, will be a good team without Soto. They can still add another starter or make smaller upgrades elsewhere that keep their well-thought-of farm system mostly intact. They don’t have to make a big splash at the deadline to show they’re trying to win. But if the window for this team is now and if there are any concerns about New York’s inability to compete with Houston (61-32) during the regular season, what better morale booster than Soto, who isn’t a rental but under team control for the next three playoff runs? What better message to send to the rest of the league?
“A major acquisition like that is kind of the non-uniform personnel taking a huge risk and making a bet and stepping out on a limb and it always resonates with the players because it’s kind of what we do with our bodies,” Cole said.
So, does Cole think a major move is imminent?
“We’ll see,” he said. “We will see what we can come up with, but we’re definitely trying.”
(Top photo of Gerrit Cole: Elsa/Getty Images)