Juan Soto has 31 million reasons to smile…
The 25-year-old Dominican professional baseball outfielder and the New York Yankees avoided arbitration with a record-setting, $31 million salary for the 2024 season, topping the list of dozens of arbitration-eligible players who agreed on their compensation ahead of Thursday’s 8:00 pm ET cutoff.
Soto’s salary, reached minutes before the deadline for players and teams to submit their desired figures ahead of a potential arbitration hearing, topped the $30 million Shohei Ohtani obtained last offseason.
Soto, like Ohtani last year, is heading into his final season before free agency.
The Yankees acquired Soto from the San Diego Padres in December as part of a seven-player deal that saw them part ways with four young pitchers, placing one of this generation’s greatest hitters in the same lineup with Aaron Judge. Soto, still only 25 years old, has led the majors in walks each of the last three years but has also accumulated 91 home runs during that stretch, during which he slashed .276/.425/.502. His adjusted OPS of 157 is the fifth-highest all time through a player’s age-24 season, trailing only Ty Cobb, Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Asked during his introductory media session about the prospect of signing long-term with the Yankees, Soto, represented by Scott Boras, said: “They know where to call and who to talk to. I’m here just to play baseball. It’s not going to be that hard because I have one of the best agents in the league.”
The second-highest figure belonged to New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, another pending free agent, who will be paid $20.5 million in 2024. Milwaukee Brewers starter Corbin Burnes ($15.637 million), Atlanta Braves starter Max Fried ($15 million), Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres ($14.2 million), Cleveland Guardians starter Shane Bieber ($13.125 million), Brewers shortstop Willy Adames ($12.25 million), Houston Astros starter Framber Valdez ($12.1 million) and outfielder Kyle Tucker ($12 million), Baltimore Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander ($11.7 million) and Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker ($10.9 million) and starter Zac Gallen ($10.011 million) also reached eight figures.
One notable exception was Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who’s two seasons away from free agency and projected for a salary in the neighborhood of $20 million this season. Guerrero was among the 22 players who ultimately exchanged figures with his respective team. Guerrero requested $19.9 million; the Blue Jays countered with $18.05 million. If the two sides ultimately go to a hearing — they’re scheduled for some time in late January or early February — an arbitrator will select one of those two numbers.
Texas Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia, Cincinnati Reds infielder Jonathan India, Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm and the Miami Marlins’ two best hitters, Luis Arraez and Jazz Chisholm, were among the others who did not agree to terms on Thursday. The biggest gap was $1.9 million between Garcia, who filed for $6.9 million, and the Rangers, who countered with $5 million.
Teams and their arbitration-eligible players — those typically with more than three and less than six years of major league service time — can continue to negotiate in the days leading up to their scheduled hearing. But most teams have treated the exchange as a firm deadline in recent years, with some making an exception only for multiyear contracts.
Yankees outfielder Alex Verdugo, Chicago White Sox starter Dylan Cease and Los Angeles Dodgers starter Walker Buehler and his catcher, Will Smith, all agreed to deals in the $8 million range. Tampa Bay Rays starter Shane McClanahan, who attained arbitration status a year early because he was among those closest to three full years of service time by season’s end, agreed to a two-year, $7.2 million contract that also resolved his 2025 salary. Brewers closer Devin Williams also agreed to a one-year, $7.25 million deal with a club option, a source told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
All told, 72 players avoided arbitration on Thursday.
The deadline was originally scheduled for Friday, but MLB and the MLB Players’ Association agreed in early December to move it up a day for the remainder of the collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2026, so that it does not spill into the weekend. A soft, 1 p.m. ET deadline was imposed for teams to agree to a deal before the exchange of filing numbers, but many deals — including those of Soto, Alonso, Burnes, Torres and several other big names — came in well after that.