Juan Soto, San Diego Padres
As many big-money deals as the Padres made, they had to get one of them right. Soto happened to be the one.
To avoid arbitration he signed a one-year, $23 million contract, resulting in a lot of trade rumors when the Padres fell out of contention. The rumors turned out to be baseless (at least to date), but Soto actually had a good season.
He batted .275 with 35 homers and 109 RBI, all of that adding up to a .929 OPS and a glossy 158 OPS+.
That the Padres failed to live up to expectations was not Soto’s fault.
His 5.4 WAR ranks behind only Ohtani among the 15 high-contract players on this list. He coupled that with a +3.6 Win Probability Added, again ranking second behind Ohtani. In other words, he had a statistically superior season to Aaron Judge, which is saying something.
Granted, Soto was in the lineup for 161 games, Judge for only 106. But showing up counts, too.
His league-leading 131 bases on balls testifies to what opposing pitchers thought of him, and fueled his .409 on base average.
With negative Defensive Runs Saved numbers, he wasn’t much of an outfield factor … but the Padres didn’t pay him that $23 million to catch; they paid him to hit. Transactional grade: A