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Ohtani, Yamamoto still up for grabs as teams head home from winter meetings

Shohei Ohtani Angels Shohei Ohtani - The Canadian Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Juan Soto found a new home with the New York Yankees as the winter meetings ended Wednesday night, while Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto were still up for grabs as team officials headed home with the bulk of their offseason business yet to be done.

Soto, an All-Star slugger who can become a free agent next fall, was dealt from the San Diego Padres to New York with Gold Glove center fielder Trent Grisham for right-handed pitchers Michael King, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez and Drew Thorpe, along with catcher Kyle Higashioka.

“It’s very difficult to make a deal where we’re trading a player the caliber of Juan Soto, but if we did that we wanted to make sure we shored up a bunch of needs. We were able to get some depth, with quality,” San Diego general manager A.J. Preller said.

The deal was the second blockbuster involving the 25-year-old Soto in less than two years. The three-time All-Star is likely to get a salary around $32 million after batting .275 with 35 homers, 109 RBIs and a .930 OPS in his only full season with the Padres.

Soto joins a Yankees outfield that projects to have fellow star Aaron Judge in center and newly acquired Alex Verdugo in the other corner as New York attempts to rebound after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Soto has a 1.274 OPS in nine career games in the Bronx.

“Soto and Judge are Gotham’s new dynamic duo,” agent Scott Boras said.

Ohtani, the unique two-way star, is expected to get a record contract of $500 million-plus. His agent, Nez Balelo, didn't travel to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, preferring to stay away.

While Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts acknowledged meeting with Ohtani at Dodger Stadium before heading to Nashville, other teams were mum. Some fans tried to use flight-tracking programs to determine Ohtani's whereabouts, and Toronto general manager Ross Atkins sparked speculation of a get-together at the team's spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, when he switched a media availability on Monday to Zoom.

Ohtani has not spoken with reporters since Aug. 9, two weeks before a pitching injury that required surgery and will keep him off a mound until 2025.

Both the Yankees and Mets are among the teams seeking Yamamoto, a 25-year-old right-hander who was 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA this season for the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League. The Yankees plan to meet with the pitcher on Monday in California, a person familiar with the planning told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because details were not announced.

Mets owner Steve Cohen and president of baseball operations David Stearns went to Japan ahead of the winter meetings to talk with Yamamoto and family.

“I think it demonstrates Steve’s commitment to do everything he possibly can to bring players to New York,” Stearns said.

National League champion Arizona landed a proven free-agent pitcher, agreeing to an $80 million, four-year contract with 30-year-old left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, a person with direct knowledge of the deal told the AP. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the move. Rodriguez spent the past two seasons with Detroit and went 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA this year.

In deals that got finalized, Baltimore agreed to a $13 million, one-year contract with closer Craig Kimbrel, the Los Angeles Dodgers announced a $9 million, one-year deal to keep outfielder Jason Heyward, and World Series champion Texas completed a $4.5 million, one-year contract with reliever Kirby Yates.

Boras, who represents Soto along with free agents Cody Bellinger, Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Jung Hoo Lee, held his annual winter meetings news conference filled with one-liners.

“As far as Bellinger, we know that the belly button has been pushed and there’s a lot of inners, more inners than outers no doubt,” Boras said. “So it’s been an aggressive campaign for elite talents in these winter meetings.”

Snell followed his 2018 AL Cy Young Award by winning this year's NL honor. “When you flip the coin, it always comes up ... on both sides,” Boras said.

Teams stocked up on pitching in the big league phase of the winter meeting draft of unprotected players, taking pitchers with eight of the 10 selections — including three from the Yankees’ system.

The Yankees lost a pair of right-handers in the first two picks, with Oakland taking Mitch Spence and Kansas City selecting Matt Sauer. Texas, fresh off its first World Series title, chose right-hander Carson Coleman from the Yankees with the No. 23 selection.


AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker and AP Baseball Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.