Mandatory Credit: James A. Pittman-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees took a big gamble this season in trading for star outfielder Juan Soto in his contract year, and ownership has noticed.

Appearing on Jack Curry’s podcast, owner Hal Steinbrenner noted he may break from tradition and actually negotiate with Soto and agent Scott Boras during the season. That would be off brand for both, particularly since Boras often insists his clients test the open market. However, Steinbrenner called this “a unique situation and a very unique player,” so getting the 25-year-old signed could soon become a priority. The “door has always been open,” as Soto said after Thursday’s win in Minnesota.

“They know the phone number and everything,” Soto said. “They know where to call. For me right here, I’m focusing on playing baseball. My thing is, try to help the team win.”

It certainly helps that Juan Soto has been exactly as advertised since putting on the pinstripes. He hasn’t missed a game and is batting .302 with nine home runs and 34 RBI. His on-base percentage (OBP) is a robust .403 and, believe it or not, these are his numbers in a 3-for-27 slump. Imagine what he’ll be doing once he’s back on track!

As for the money, Soto is making $31 million this year, his age-25 season. Safe to say he’ll be earning a bit more annually on his next deal.

Or will he?

Keep in mind, Shohei Ohtani steered MLB free agency into uncharted waters last offseason with his faux-megacontract. It’s a 10-year, $700 million contract on paper, but Ohtani is only taking $2 million per year in base salary. The rest is deferred until after he retires. Ohtani structured his deal this way so as not to completely clog the Dodgers’ payroll, and Teoscar Hernandez also deferred some money when he signed with Los Angeles.

This is all legal under the CBA. Players just have to agree to it voluntarily. The Yankees need to just ask if Soto is interested in this and then go from there based on his answer.

And even if Juan Soto says no, the Yankees simply must re-sign him. As my podcast co-host says, Soto is general manager Brian Cashman’s “perfect lab-grown player” who simply cannot get away. A fit this perfect cannot be taught, nor can his tremendous skillset. It’s worth noting that since becoming a Yankee, Soto has had his best defensive season in three years, albeit with a modest +1 defensive runs saved (DRS) and outs above average (OAA) each in left field.

Anyway, back to the money of it all. At the end of a day, the question is simple: how much is Juan Soto’s next contract worth? Aaron Judge makes a clean $40 million a year, but he’s also 32 already and made his money after a record-setting MVP season. Soto is hitting the market in his prime and could be in a position to keep on earning big at the end of it.

Let’s assume that at the start of negotiations, Boras and Soto start with a simple offer. Ten years, $500 million, no deferrals and a full no-trade clause, and an opt-out after four years. Right idea, a long-term deal at $50 million a year. Seems logical given Soto’s age and skills, right?

Well, let’s be honest with ourselves. Juan Soto is good, but is he that good? That’s a big commitment if someone is $50 million a year levels of good, particularly if none is deferred. This brings us to another question: Does Soto care more about cash or contract length? It’s not unheard of for players to sacrifice some money for an extra year on a deal if they like the city enough.

In Soto’s case, that seems to be very much. He’s been seen at both Knicks and Rangers games and seems to genuinely enjoy New York. His stardom is a great match for the city and the Yankees should use that in negotiating with him.

Except this is Juan Soto. There will be no hometown discount. The Yankees’ best hope would be to offer him a longer term-deal for just a shade over the initial overall ask. In this case, we’ll say 12 years and $525 million with an opt-out after five years. That keeps Soto in the Bronx through at least his age-30 season and pays him $43.75 million per year. If he opts to defer money, even better.

This is a free agent unlike any other, greater than even Cashman’s “white whale” Gerrit Cole. It’s Juan Soto, probably the closest this generation has to Ken Griffey Jr. His price tag is irrelevant, this is officially “But it’s Zava” territory.

Juan Soto knows his worth, his agent does too, and so does everyone within the New York Yankees organization. The only real competition would be the crosstown rival Mets, and they’ve got their own fish to fry with upcoming free agent Pete Alonso. Soto is 100% the Yankees’ to lose and in case it wasn’t clear, negotiations need to be underway immediately.

And now, the immortal words:

Mr. Cashman, go and get your man.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.