Aaron Judge and 2023 (and beyond)...
by Paul Semendinger
August 1, 2022
Aaron Judge is having a season for the ages. This has been so wonderful and awesome to see. He is tearing it up. It is great when a Yankees star enjoys a legendary season. Judge is leading the Yankees to the division title with the hopes that a World Series title follows. Along the way he just might set the single-season home run record.
Many writers, commentators, fans, experts, and others believe that because Aaron Judge is having such a wonderful season and because he's a fan favorite, the "face of the franchise," and the heir apparent to Derek Jeter, that he will be a New York Yankee for the rest of his career. This is what so many, including me (within reason) are hoping for.
But, I am on record stating that I believe there is a chance that after the 2022 season, no matter how well he does, that Aaron Judge might be playing for a different team in 2023.
There could be a million reasons for this.
One obvious reason is that the Yankees might not make him the best offer. Aaron Judge is having a GREAT season. BUT, going forward, teams do not (and should not) pay for past performance. That's not the way the system works. At all. The Yankees will make a decision on what they believe Aaron Judge's value will be going forward.
Next season, Aaron Judge will be 31-years-old. Teams, including the Yankees, might rightfully make the decision that it just doesn't make sense to go seven, or eight... or ten years to a player about to enter his Age-31 season. Or teams, including the Yankees, might not feel that a player who will possibly be just about to enter his decline years is not a player worth investing $35 million (or more?) a year. Those are fair and reasonable assumptions and decisions.
This is the business of baseball. The Yankees, and every team, will have to make a decision on what Aaron Judge will be worth from 2023 forward (not how he did in 2022 or in years prior). It is possible (and I think it's very likely) that the Yankees will not make the best offer in years or dollars. And, I also think that if the Yankees do not go to seven years (or more) that they are making the correct choice. The fans today, right now, love Aaron Judge. Rightfully so. But, they won't love Aaron Judge if he's hitting .255 and averaging 25 homers a year as a 34-year-old right fielder/designated hitter and clogging up a good portion of the team's salary toward the luxury cap. That's just a reality. We live in a "What Are You Doing For Me Right Now" world. The same fans cheering Aaron Judge today won't be cheering as much for him if his performance follows the natural aging curve, or worse, if his production declines significantly. (One example of many - the fans loved CC Sabathia when he was winning big. They didn't love him so much when his performance dropped significantly.)
Then there is this idea among some fans that Aaron Judge loves the Yankees so much that he wishes to remain a Yankee forever. Really? I don't recall him saying that, especially not recently.
Maybe, just maybe, Aaron Judge's lifelong dream is to play for the San Francisco Giants. They were his favorite team as a kid:
Also interesting, Albert Pujols, one of Judge's favorite players, was a player who was a legend in the city (St. Louis) where he played, but it was a city he left when he became a free agent.
Albert Pujols was a superstar when he went from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Angels, but he was 32-years-old and his decline came faster than anyone thought possible. (Do you think the Cardinals in retrospect were happy they weren't investing in Albert Pujols? They made a strong offer, but the Angels offered more. The Cardinals dodged a bullet.)
When pressed last week at the All-Star Game, Aaron Judge didn't say he wanted to stay. He could have said that, but he didn't. (Watch at the 5:40 mark.). Was he caught off-guard? Did he misspeak? Or was he sharing his true feelings? No one knows. All we know is that he did not say, "I will remain a New York Yankee."
We also know this, the Yankees offered Aaron Judge 230 million dollars to remain a Yankee. And he turned them down. Aaron Judge's actions have said, "I want to remain a Yankee, but only at a significant price - a price that is more (I suspect lots more) than $230 million."
Think about that for a moment. Two hundred and thirty million dollars. Aaron Judge turned that down. If he truly wanted to remain a Yankee, the offer the Yankees tendered would have kept him here. The Yankees didn't offer him a small sum of money. They offered him a ton of money - over thirty million dollars a year. And Judge declined. He said that it wasn't enough money. That's also the system. That's how it works. Aaron Judge is allowed to ask for whatever he hopes for. But the Yankees are also allowed to put a limit on what they are willing to spend.
I do not know what Aaron Judge's hopes for 2023 are beyond are. No one does. It's possible even that Aaron Judge doesn't know.
The Yankees might make the best offer to him and he stays.
The Yankees might make the best offer to him and he leaves anyway.
The Yankees might make a lesser offer and he stays.
Or the Yankees might make a lesser offer and he leaves.
And, as much as I like Aaron Judge and want him to be a Yankee forever, depending on what the offers he gets are, the right decision for the Yankees might be to allow him to move on. There has to come a limit beyond which it is reasonable to keep him. If another team offers Aaron Judge $40 million for ten years, should the Yankees feel compelled to match, or beat, that offer? I don't think so.
Conversely, if the Yankees "only" offer him $35 million for six years and another team offers him $40 million, should he feel compelled to stay? No. Absolutely not. The right decision for Aaron Judge, once he sees all the offers, might be to move on. And there is nothing wrong with that.
If I were the Yankees, I just wouldn't go beyond six years. There have far too many players at Aaron Judge's age that have declined significantly, and seemingly over night. The Yankees work within a budget (a big budget,. but it's a budget nonetheless). They pay close attention to the luxury tax cap. As such, they have to carefully evaluate each and every dollar they spend. I do not believe Aaron Judge will be a player worth $35 million dollars a year when he is in his mid-to-late 30's. And with the luxury tax being what it is, if Aaron Judge, or any player, isn't producing value, that player will be getting in the way of the team's ability to compete for a World Championship. This is the reality.
If he leaves, for whatever reason, I'll remember Aaron Judge's Yankees career fondly. I'll always remember 2022 especially. It's been such a fun year (to date, at least). And, if he plays somewhere else, I'll still cheer him on. I'll wish him all the best wherever he goes. I still rooted for Reggie Jackson when he was on the California Angels. I was thrilled when Mike Pagliarulo won a World Series with the Twins. Graig Nettles was still my favorite player when he was in San Diego and Atlanta and Montreal. I wanted Tino Martinez to do well in St. Louis. I wanted Andy Pettitte to do well in Houston. On and on... (Heck, I root for the Mets manager today. I want Buck Showalter to have success, just as I rooted for Willie Randolph when he was the manager of the Mets.)
Aaron Judge has the right to play next year where ever he wants. He's earned that right. Again, that's how the system works. I'd love for Aaron Judge to take a hometown discount (if that's what it takes) and stay with the Yankees, but I'll understand completely if he doesn't. And I'll wish him all the best.
Plenty of players have changed teams including superstars, team legends, and the like. Freddie Freeman just left Atlanta. Ken Griffey, Jr. left Seattle. Andy Pettitte left the Yankees. Robinson Cano left the Yankees. Johnny Damon left the Red Sox. Dave Winfield left the Padres. Pete Rose left the Reds. Albert Pujols left the Cardinals. Fred Lynn left the Red Sox. So did Carlton Fisk. Steve Garvey left the Dodgers. Kirk Gibson left the Tigers. Darryl Strawberry left the Mets. All those players left as free agents. And the list goes on and on...
Aaron Judge will do what's best for Aaron Judge when the season ends. That is how it should be. He has that earned right and he will exercise that right when he becomes a free agent.
It will be interesting to see all of this once the season ends.
No one knows how this will play out. At all.