Juan Soto breaks Shohei Ohtani's record for largest arbitration contract with $31 million Yankees deal

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 30: Juan Soto #22 of the San Diego Padres reacts after an RBI double in the second inning against the Chicago White Sox  at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 30, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Juan Soto hits free agency next offseason. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Juan Soto will begin his New York Yankees career by getting paid like Shohei Ohtani.

But not $700 million.

The Yankees' star trade acquisition reached a pre-arbitration agreement on a one-year, $31 million contract Thursday, per ESPN's Jeff Passan. The total breaks the record for the most ever earned by a player in arbitration, surpassing Ohtani's deal with the Los Angeles Angels last year.

The contract underscores the expectations Soto carries as he arrives in the Bronx. The Yankees acquired him and outfielder Trent Grisham from the San Diego Padres in exchange for a boatload of prospects last month, with the hope that he can help turn the team around after its disappointing 82-80 season in 2023.

The list of players who have had better starts to their careers than Soto is contained entirely in the Baseball Hall of Fame, save for some recent players. The only players to post an OPS+ better than Soto's 157 career mark in 500 games before their age-25 seasons were Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mickie Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker and Rogers Hornsby.

Juan Soto headshot
Juan Soto
RF - NYY - #22
2023 - false season

Stats such as that likely helped Soto's cause at the arbitration table. And the Yankees opted to give him the most money ever and move on.

The bigger question is what Soto will be paid (and who will be paying him) next year. He is set to hit free agency after the 2024 season at the young age of 26 and figures to command one of the largest deals in sports history. He might not get $700 million like Ohtani did, but it seems probable that he'll surpass the inflation-adjusted value of that deal, reportedly calculated to be worth roughly $460 million over 10 years.

Like he did the Padres and Washington Nationals, Soto has humored talk of a contract extension without there being any real smoke about him signing one. When asked recently about the possibility of a Yankees extension, Soto simply said, "They know where to call and who to talk to."

Other notable MLB arbitration numbers

Thursday marked the deadline for MLB teams to exchange arbitration salary figures with players, which resulted in a flurry of one-year deals being reported.

Here are some of the other notable ones:

If some of those numbers look incongruous, it's because players in their third year of arbitration make more than players in their first year. The arbitration system is designed for players to make an increasing fraction of their market value each year until they hit free agency.