Juan Soto returns to San Diego, blasts homerun, talks future: “Whoever wants to talk about deals, I’m open”

The Sporting Tribune's Fernando Ramirez on Juan Soto returning to San Diego and shinning some light about not only his time with the Padres but his future.

SAN DIEGO — The name Juan Soto can be taken in several directions in the city of San Diego because of the two trades that have included him.

He returned on Friday night when the New York Yankees came into Petco Park for a three-game series to a mixture of boos and cheers while also taking game one 8-0.

The cheers came from the Yankees fans that flooded the park, while the boos came from angry Padres fans that felt betrayed.

“I don’t know, man,” Soto said before the game. “I really don’t know. It’s going to be tough for me because they were right there everyday for me… I was like kind of sad about it because I can’t couldn’t show them the really how great I can be.”

Whether it is betrayed by Soto for getting traded or by AJ Preller for not giving him a long-term deal.

“It was a great team, great fan base,” Soto said. “But at the end of the day we just couldn’t get it done and just keep moving forward.”

Coming into Friday’s game, Soto had been great in pinstripes. He has a .313 batting average, 61 hits, 13 homers, 40 RBIs and 37 runs scored in 51 games.

The numbers that jump out are his batting run value, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, Avg. Exit Velocity, Bat Speed, Barrel %, Hard-Hit %, Chase %, BB%, and Arm Value are in the 95th percentile or above.

“Definitely not surprised,” Fernando Tatis Jr. said. “I knew he was going to rise to the occasion. He’s that type of player. He has shown it before. I’m totally confident he’s going to be a great player out there.”

This was also the first time that Soto was going to face his former teammates. 

“We’re not friends anymore,” Tatis Jr. said with a smile. “I love Juan. He’s a great guy. He’s a great baseball player, but we’re in different uniforms now so on the field is a little bit different.”

As things stand on May 24th, the Yankees are the best team in the AL and feature a dynamic duo with Soto and Aaron Judge, who ironically enough reportedly almost became a Padre in the 2023 offseason but almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. 

“He is having a great season,” Tatis said. “Hopefully, he can do it for the rest of the season. Just not against us.”

Soto struck out in the first inning at the hands of You Darvish, who had been playing good ball, to an array of cheers. 

In the 3rd inning, he blasted a two-run shot to right field and gave a stutter step before getting around third base. His partner in crime, Judge, smacked one to left field. Giancarlo Stanton joined the party two batters later, hammering a 417 feet to left, bringing the score to 6-0 and eventually winning.

He was traded to the Yankees on December 7th along with center fielder Trent Grisham for pitchers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Johny Brito, Randy Vazquez, and backup catcher Kyle Higashioka. Thorpe was traded to the Chicago White Sox for star pitcher Dylan Cease, while Higashioka has been underwhelming.

The Yankees have won this trade, and it is evident — for now.

“I was expecting to be back in San Diego, and probably a week or two weeks before the trade, he just told me, ‘I’m sorry, we were looking to trade you,’ and it just happened,” Soto said. “So I was really preparing myself to come back to San Diego.” 

Soto came to San Diego at the trade deadline in 2022, one of many blockbuster deals orchestrated during the Preller era. 

Preller had failed the year before to acquire Washington Nationals superstars pitcher Max Scherzer and shortstop Trae Turner to NL West rival LA Dodgers.

In 2022, Preller faced pressure from the Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to acquire Soto, but he won the battle this time. In return, he gave up shortstop C.J. Abrams, who happens to be one of the best young shortstops. Pitcher MacKenzie Gore has been a solid mid-rotation starter, plus they might have hit the jackpot with outfielder James Woods, who is MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 overall prospect.

The idea was to build the team around Soto, Machado, and Tatis — plans don’t always come to fruition.

“That was the goal when he came here,” Manny Machado said about Soto wanting to stay. “That’s what he wanted. I know he expressed that as well, publicly and privately.”

That is quite a haul for a player who stayed 1 1/2 seasons and only half of a season from first baseman Josh Bell.

Soto struggled when he first came in, but in the postseason, he made more of an impact, hitting .261 with 29 hits, seven homers, 21 RBIs, and 19 runs scored in 29 games.

San Diego made it to the NLCS without Tatis Jr., who was serving a suspension. There was a lot of hope for the Padres’ 2023 season, but the team underperformed, going 82-80 and missing the playoffs.

“I just think it’s baseball,” Soto said. “I don’t know that they even have the best team on paper. You gotta go out there and try to win games, but stuff happens. We didn’t we didn’t have luck on our side in 2023.”

Even with Soto’s success in New York, the same questions continue surrounding him in San Diego: Will he be a Yankee long-term?

After this season, he will hit free agency. Soto was asked on Friday if he thought the door was closed on a return to San Diego if they offered him a big-time contract.

“We’re going to be open to listening to anybody and everybody,” Soto said. “We’re not closing any doors. Whoever wants to talk about deals, I’m open.”

It will be interesting to see which teams actually have the money to pay Soto. As of right now, he is in an MVP-caliber season, so that means the price goes up. Judge earns $40 million a year, so that is the neighborhood that Soto and agent Scott Boras will be looking to move to. 

Talks with the Yankees are ongoing, and there are rumors surrounding the Mets, the other team in New York, possibly winning the Soto sweepstakes. If the Yankees let him hit free agency, other teams may come calling.

The superstar outfielder is only looking toward adding another World Series to his trophy case this season before worrying about finding a permanent home.

“Right now, I’m focused on 2024, and I’m part of the Yankees, and I’m a Yankee right now in 2024, and my goals are really clear to win a championship here,” Soto said.