The San Diego Padres were sitting on this offseason's biggest gold mine in Juan Soto. They could've traded him for a haul or played out 2024 with one of the best players in the league to see where they were at come the August deadline. In the end, they relented, trading him to the New York Yankees, which actually hurts the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Before the deal materialized, AJ Preller was distracting perhaps the top Yoshinobu Yamamoto suitor in the Yankees. Had he dragged things out a little bit longer, LA would've been in a better spot.
Much of the offseason buzz surrounding the Japanese ace has linked him to New York and LA, but the Yankees have felt like the unofficial leader in the race since their interest in the right-hander dates far back. Not to mention, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was present in Japan for Yamamoto's no-hitter this past season, which occurred during Old Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium. Must've been an important trip to miss that event in the Bronx, huh Brian?
The Yankees, having been engaged with the Padres on Soto, were perhaps briefly preoccupied. The longer those trade talks dragged on, the greater the possibility Cashman's focus was diverted away from Yamamoto. Of course, we don't know that for sure, but Soto was an objectively bigger need for the Yankees than the right-handed ace, who has a much more expansive market.
But now that the Soto trade is completed, the consensus remains: the Yankees are still the perceived favorites for Yamamoto.
Padres' expedited Juan Soto trade hurts Dodgers in Yoshinobu Yamamoto chase
One pursuit didn't necessarily affect the other, since one was a trade and another is a free agent signing, but after the Yankees' pitching was somewhat gutted in a Soto deal, the sole import of Yamamoto still won't be enough to help replenish the lost depth.
Though that might entice the Yankees to go harder after Yamamoto, they also can't lose sight of other pitching options in free agency or the trade market, which, in theory, would add to the heavy offseason lifting. The Yankees definitely aren't dumb enough to let someone like Yamamoto slip through their fingertips because of lesser distractions, but Soto plus other long-term concerns about their pitching staff? That's a lot. Checking Soto off this early in the proceedings was a massive win for New York. It also likely helps build a case for Yamamoto to come to the Bronx to play with three of the best names in the sport.
If Soto's situation dragged on past the Winter Meetings, Dodgers fans would've felt a lot better about their chances in the Yamamoto race.
The Dodgers had their own "distraction" trying to lure Shohei Ohtani to LA, but that actually helped them more with Yamamoto's apparent willingness to play alongside a fellow Japanese star in MLB (which apparently has been a turn-off in the past among others making the transition). Now that the $700 million deal is done, could that be a main selling point?
All anybody can hope for is the Dodgers' pitch being far superior to the Yankees' now that the massive Soto and Ohtani hurdle have been cleared. The Ohtani exhale was a satisfying one, but LA has plenty more work to do.