Aaron Judge and the Future
by Paul Semendinger
November 14, 2022
I have been promising this article for a while, my comprehensive "all thoughts included" overview on Aaron Judge and his future and the Yankees.
Sit back and get comfortable... This is the most comprehensive look at everything surrounding Aaron Judge and the Yankees going forward.
What follows is a long collection of thoughts. Many of these ideas and perspectives are ones I have not shared before, but they are all relevant and important considerations as the Aaron Judge contract situation plays out. Some of these ideas might also deserve longer articles. Not everyone will agree with each item, but these are all legitimate points that are part of the decision making process for Aaron Judge and the Yankees.
To begin, none of this is easy. This isn't easy for Aaron Judge. It isn't easy for the Yankees.
Above all, this decision is one that will change the course of Yankees history one way or another forever.
Let's get to it:
Aaron Judge has been and is a great Yankee. Because of this, and the fact that he is, right now, in his prime, it is logical, very logical, for the Yankees and the fans to want Aaron Judge to return. Currently, of all the players to wear the Yankees uniform, Aaron Judge is 24th all-time in bWAR. He has accumulated more bWAR as a Yankee than players like Paul O'Neill, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, and more. Many more. Think about that, he's already a Top-15 Yankee all-time.
Aaron Judge is quickly entering even more glorified status in Yankees history. With a typical season in 2023 (6 bWAR) Judge would move into 18th place, all-time. With an 8 bWAR season, Judge would move into the top 15 all-time. Assuming he plays eight more years with the Yankees, and averages just 3 bWAR a season over those eight years, Aaron Judge would end his career with 61 bWAR which would put him in 6th place all-time.
No matter what happens, Aaron Judge will be enshrined in Monument Park. The idea that Aaron Judge needs to re-sign with the Yankees in order to be enshrined in Monument Park is simply not true. He's already earned his spot there. Even if he leaves, there will be a day when the Yankees will welcome him back, either as a player or after he retires. He just had one of the greatest seasons in Yankees' history. It will make too much sense for the Yankees to welcome him home some day and it'll make too much sense for Judge to also return. At this point, Judge re-signing with the Yankees will have no impact on his inclusion in that special place. He has earned it already. Teams always welcome back their old stars. Always. And, as noted, Aaron Judge already has accumulated enough bWAR to rank ahead of players already in Monument Park. And none of those guys ever hit 62 home runs in a season.
No one knows how this contact situation will play out this winter. There will be a lot of speculation about where Aaron Judge will sign. All sorts of experts will announce that they know. They don't. People will guess. People will claim to know. Again, they don't. No one knows, at this point how this will all end. No one.
Even Aaron Judge does not know where he will play in 2023. This is a huge decision for Aaron Judge. He will listen to offers. He will spend much time in reflection. He will listen to his family and friends. Each offer will be weighed based on any number of factors including years, total value, opt-out clauses, the teams who are making the offers, and countless other external factors.
In the end, the contract will be for big dollars and for many years. When this is over, Aaron Judge will be a very rich man. I can't imagine him signing for fewer than seven years. I imagine it'll be closer to ten. I also can't see him signing for anything less than $280 million and I assume he will break the $300 million mark.
At some point, the cost (in years and/or dollars) will be too expensive - even for the Yankees. This point is so obvious that it shouldn't need to be said, but there are people saying the Yankees have to do whatever it takes to sign Judge That's just silly. Should the Yankees offer Judge $50m a year? Should they give him a 20-year contract? There is a limit, of course. Aaron Judge is worth a lot of money to a baseball team. He's not worth an unlimited amount of money.
If the Yankees offer Aaron Judge a fair contract and he doesn't take it, that does not mean that the Yankees lowballed him. I think Aaron Judge will get more than 7 years at $280m, but if that's what the Yankees give as their best offer, that's a great offer. Period. If Aaron Judge doesn't take a deal like that, that did not mean the Yankees did not step up big for him. $40m a year for seven years is very generous. Again, I don't know that the Yankees will offer, but if that is their offer, they're not being cheap.
If Aaron Judge leaves, he is not a bad guy. Aaron Judge has every right to take the offer he thinks is best. He might take an offer less than what the Yankees offer. He might take an offer for more. It's his decision. Period. He will do what is right for him and his family. That's all that matters for him. He doesn't owe the Yankees anything. Nor do the Yankees owe him an overpay.
The deal the Yankees offered at the start of the season was fair. The Yankees offered Judge long-term security and more than $30m a season. It was a very fair offer. Very fair.
Like it or not, especially before this season, Aaron Judge was a very good player who also missed a lot of time with injuries. I hear a lot of people calling Judge's injuries "freak injuries." (Many of those same people said the same things about Giancarlo's injury history a few years ago.) Freak, real, one-in-a-million injuries, or whatever, Aaron Judge has been hurt a lot. He has been in the lineup consistently the last two seasons, but his history has not been as a player who stays on the field. Judge played in only 69% of the games in 2018. In 2019, that number was only 63%. In 2020, he played in only 46% of the games, but, it cannot be forgotten that he was injured during the Covid shutdown. He would have missed most of the 2020 season due to injury if the season wasn't mostly cancelled. Yes, Judge has changed that narrative the last two years, but that cannot take away the fact that prior to this season, when the Yankees made their offer, he was not a player that was known for being durable.
And, there is no guarantee that Judge will stay healthy going forward. Everyone wants and hopes that Aron Judge stays healthy, but, again, he has a difficult history with injuries, no matter the cause. As a point of comparison, in 2017, Giancarlo Stanton played in 159 games (for the Marlins). He then played in 158 games in 2018 for the Yankees. He seemed to put the "frequently injured" label behind him... until he didn't. The Yankees, and every team, have to seriously consider Judge's injury history. It is, like it or not, part of the equation. It's actually a big part of the equation.
BUT (all that being said) Aaron Judge has every right to feel that he was low balled with the offer the Yankees made. Aaron Judge didn't like the deal the Yankees offered, and that's fair, but, again, that does not mean it was an unfair offer. Reasonable minds can disagree, as the Yankees and Aaron Judge did with that last offer.
Some say that the Yankees should have locked up Aaron Judge years ago. That might be true, but, looking at the above injury history, would a smart team have committed long term to a player who misses that much time, no matter how good he is? I always want the Yankees to spend big, but in not offering big money years ago to Aaron Judge, the Yankees acted prudently - and correctly. It was a gamble and it was the right call.
Aaron Judge now deserves a huge contract. Absolutely.
But, the contract might not be for as long or how much as he hopes. The system is the system. It is what is it. Aaron Judge will be 31-years-old next season. If a player's prime is from ages 28-32, Judge is about to quickly be out of his prime. It is not baseball's fault, nor the Yankees fault, or anyone's fault that Judge's free agency came when he was older than some of the other superstars who reached this point as their primes were beginning. This fact could hold down Judge's overall value. If I was making an offer, this fact would be one of my primary concerns.
The Yankees cannot let Aaron Judge hold them hostage this winter. Aaron Judge has been a great Yankee. But, the Yankees are more than Aaron Judge. The Yankees are more than Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. The Yankees should feel they have an obligation to their fans to put the best team out there for 2023 and beyond. It will be great if Aaron Judge is part of that. But, if the market starts moving, and Aaron Judge isn't signed, the Yankees will also have to move on and start addressing the many needs they have going forward. Sure, if the market waits for Aaron Judge, the Yankees can also wait, but once the market starts to move, the Yankees have to make their last and best offer and give a deadline to Judge. The Yankees cannot sit back and let Aaron Judge hold their off-season hostage, at least, not if the Yankees wish to be contenders in 2023.
No matter what Judge was paid in the past, that has no bearing on what the Yankees should offer him going forward. The now contract has to be about 2023 and beyond. Teams must look forward when offering a contract - not past. Judging by a player's worth to a team, the value of each point of WAR, and etc... the Yankees underpaid Judge the last many years. Again, that is how the system works. That has no bearing, at all, on how much money the Yankees should offer Judge going forward. The Yankees don't get luxury tax cap points for underpaying a player in the past. The only numbers that matter are the dollars and the years going forward. That's all the Yankees can look at. It makes no sense, none at all, in any way, to give Judge more money or years because he was underpaid in year's past.
Aaron Judge will never have a season like 2022 again (because, basically, no one has ever had a season like that). This is also extremally obvious. Judge just had his greatest season. He will never match it. In that regard, his decline begins as soon as he signs that new contract in much the same way as a new car loses its value the moment it is driven off the dealership lot. Judge's 2023 season will not replicate his 2022 season. He'll never replicate 2022 again. That does not mean he won't be good. Aaron Judge should still be excellent, if he stays healthy, for at least a few years. The question of how long he will be elite or better than average is the real question.
There are, of course, two sides to the argument that "Aaron Judge stepped up big in 2022." That is, of course, true. He played great as he played for a new contract. But, if that's the talking point, the next points have to also be asked, because they are also part of that equation:
If Aaron Judge had this superhuman ability to step up big and show the Yankees what he is worth, why didn't he play that great before?
Will Aaron Judge play that great when he's not playing for a contract?
Why didn't Judge perform well in the post season? If we give Aaron Judge extra credit for "stepping-up" as he played for a contract, we have to ask those other questions. They are only fair. Will he "step-up" again when he doesn't have to play for a contract? If Aaron Judge has this magically ability to play big when it benefits him, as the logic goes, shouldn't there be a concern that he doesn't have that to play for any longer?
From the team's standpoint, does it makes sense to spend top dollar to a player coming off his career year? Again, this is a very fair question. Before 2022, in the previous three full seasons, Aaron Judge was a 5-6 bWAR player. In 2022 his bWAR was 10.4. 2022 was Judge's outlier season.
Aaron Judge has been a true stand-up person. He has represented the Yankees extremely well. That has also value. Aaron Judge has been a model citizen on and off the field. For a team, that also has great value. Great value. The Yankees should feel confident that Aaron Judge does not seem like a player who will embarrass the team in any way going forward. That is very important. This helps Aaron Judge's value. In addition...
Aaron Judge has proved he can handle and play big under the bright lights of New York. The guy just had a 10.4 bWAR season and he set the American League record for home runs in a single season. 'Nuff said.
Judge's merchandise sells well. The Yankees will make money off Aaron Judge. Again, this is also an important point for the Yankees. If Aaron Judge leaves, the Yankees will lose a very valuable revenue stream. They know this and this will factor into their decision making.
If he stays, the Yankees will make money off Aaron Judge forever. There will always been Aaron Judge jerseys, hats, figures, signed balls, and the like being sold in Yankee Stadium even if he leaves, but if Judge is a lifetime Yankee, that only enhances those items.
But if he goes, the Yankees will still market his name, and his legacy and his record. Roger Maris items still sell even though Roger Maris finished his career in St. Louis. Reggie Jackson items still sell, even though he went to the Angels...
One must ask what Aaron Judge himself thinks of the way the Yankees have treated him. If Aaron Judge doesn't feel he has been treated fairly by the Yankees (and he would not be the first Yankees star, or even player, to feel that way) he might feel less compelled to stay with the team.
What residuals has Aaron Judge been given for his likeness and marketability over the years? The Yankees have sold a ton of Aaron Judge merchandise and the like. What other player has a section of the stadium named for him? How does Aaron Judge feel about all of this? Only he knows. One has to wonder if the Yankees have ever, in a contract, or in any way, acknowledged this to Judge. If not, might Aaron Judge feel some resentment? Will that factor into his decision making? (And, if it does, he has every right to feel that way.)
As he looks ahead, Aaron Judge might not feel that the Yankees offer him the best chance to win a World Series in the next few years. If winning matters most to Aaron Judge, and no one knows the answer to this, he might not feel that the Yankees offer him the greatest chance to win a World Series. This is a real factor. (I would assume some very successful teams, some who have been more willing to spend than the Yankees, will be in the bidding for Aaron Judge.) In short, how much does winning matter in Judge's ultimate decision and does he feel the Yankees best represent his chances to win a World Series?
Many have seen Aaron Boone's shortcomings as a manager. It could be possible that Aaron Judge would rather play for a more established manager who gives his team a better chance to win. Does Aaron Judge feel that Aaron Boone is a great manager?Again, this is a fair question. We don't know how much Judge enjoys playing for Aaron Boone. Judge might love him. Or, he might be frustrated with him. In this moment, Aaron Judge has the opportunity to choose who his boss will be. Wouldn't we all like to have that opportunity?
Aaron Judge has every right to play where he wants. Again, whether that be the Yankees or the Mets or the Dodgers, or the Cubs, or the Red Sox, or the Giants, or even the Kansas City Royals... This is Aaron Judge's chance to weigh every factor and take the deal he wishes. This is his right. This is what he has earned. Aaron Judge owes the Yankees nothing in this decision making.
Aaron Judge has every right to follow the money and go where he if offered the biggest contract. If making the most money is what matters most to Aaron Judge, he also has that right. I suspect that that factor means a ton to virtually every single person reading this article. If he follows the money, that doesn't make him a bad guy. In many regards, that's the smartest business decision he can make.
If Aaron Judge leaves the Yankees, that will not tarnish his legacy. This just needs to be repeated. Reggie left. Many great Yankees eventually left the team.
Aaron Judge might not love playing for the Yankees. Again, how do we know what's in his heart? There can be any number of reasons that Aaron Judge would rather play somewhere else.
Sometimes a change of scenery can be a great thing. Absolutely. This is true for Aaron Judge and it could also be true for the Yankees.
There are other factors, besides money, that will factor into Aaron Judge's thinking. Again, a statement of the obvious.
Aaron Judge knows the history of the Yankees for good... Of course, Aaron Judge might want nothing more than to play for the Yankees and become one of the top ten Yankees of all-time. That might be the thing that matters the most.
Many, if not most, of the gigantic contracts that have been signed by Yankees players have not ended well. This is also true. Aaron Judge has seen this. Almost every big time Yankee (including Derek Jeter) did not appreciate the Yankees negotiations. Most high salaried Yankees faced difficult declines and much strife as the years went on - especially if those years were absent of World Championships. Think of the big names... Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, even C.C. Sabathia for a few years there... It's not always pretty once the big dollar contracts are signed. And things are magnified in New York. This is especially true with the Yankees - especially when they don't win.
Look back to Old Timer's Day, the Yankees don't always have the best relationships with their former stars. Many big time Yankees have been absent from the team in recent years - even predating Covid. Why is this? There was a time when all the big names always came back.
Every team has the right to bid for Aaron Judge. I have heard people say that the Mets shouldn't go after him. Why not? The Mets should, absolutely, be players in the Aaron Judge sweepstakes. The Mets have no reason to be afraid of the Yankees in this. The Mets should be making every decision to make themselves the best team. If a great Met becomes a free agent, I'd want the Yankees to be all-in in trying to get that player. Imagine if Tom Seaver had been a free agent. Why wouldn't the Yankees have gone for him?
If Aaron Judge comes back, it is clear that he, alone, is not the answer to achieving a World Series. The Yankees need to do more than just re-sign Aaron Judge this winter and going forward. Judge can carry the team for a period (as he did in 2022), but the Yankees actually have a plethora of needs in 2023 that must be addressed.
If the Yankees spend big on Aaron Judge, they have to be willing, for the entirety of the contract, to spend the necessary money to build a great team around him. If the Yankees sign Aaron Judge and are focused on the luxury tax as a cap, they will not win any World Series during Judge's tenure. Along with bringing back Judge has to come the commitment to also do whatever it takes to bring a World Series to the Bronx.
This is a different era than the Mattingly-era Yankees. If the Yankees don't win with Aaron Judge, his legacy will not be as bright in many fans' eyes. In short, Aaron Judge won't be seen as a winner. That won't mean he wasn't great. But he won't be a beloved Yankee the way Don Mattingly or Derek Jeter was. Think more of a Dave Winfield type. (Mattingly, among all players, might be the only Yankee to never win a championship and still be so beloved by the fans.)
Aaron Judge has not be a good post season player, especially in recent years. Small sample size or whatever, this is a factor that all teams must consider. It plays a role, no matter how small.
The "Aaron Judge was tired" excuse for the 2022 playoffs is just not a good excuse or talking point. Blaming Judge's poor post season on him being tired is just a bad look. If a player can't find the energy for the post season, that's a problem.
The Yankees cannot count on the young kids coming up to off-set Judge's salary. There is no guarantee that Anthony Volpe, Jasson Dominguez, etc... will even be good big leaguers. We have seen, and been promised, for years that the next group of young kids are the real deal. The names of the great future Yankees is long indeed. In short, the great majority have disappointed. Greatly. It wasn't long ago that Jorge Mateo and Gleyber Torres were the Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza in the system. They were both "can't miss" prospects. As were Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird and Jose Tabita. As was Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar. On and on. There are reasons to believe that the current prospects coming up are not as great as advertised or hoped. Jasson Dominguez just hit .159 in the Arizona Fall League. Anthony Volpe hit just .249 overall across the minor leagues in 2022. The Yankees didn't trust Oswald Peraza when they called him up this past year. And those are the top prospects. Everson Pereira hit just .277 over two levels (A+ and AA) with only 14 homers. He will be 22-years-old next year. According to Baseball America, as was reported (I do not subscribe), the #10 prospect in the Yankees system, right now, is Estevan Florial. We know that the Yankees don't trust him at all. In short, the Yankees don't necessarily have a deep system that they can use to plug the holes around Judge with young players. In fact, it is more likely that very few of these players turn out to be stars. That's just the cold reality. The Yankees history in this department, over decades, just isn't that impressive.
The Yankees remain much too right-handed and one-dimensional in the lineup. If Aaron Judge returns, the Yankees need to trade Giancarlo Stanton. Giancarlo Stanton and Judge is not a formula that works. If Judge comes back, Stanton should go. While Judge is the better of the two (by a long shot), they play very similarly (hot and cold, high strikeout profiles, they both have injury history, etc.). Rather than being complementary pieces, they negate some of the value of the other player. The Judge/Stanton was a great approach, but it didn't work. The two players are much too similar. If Aaron Judge comes back, the Yankees need to go another direction and move Stanton, preferably for a big lefty bat.
Aaron Judge might not be, in all actuality, the right player for this club. He should not be a leadoff or a #2 hitter. The fact that Judge is batting in those spots, and not as a more middle of the order hitter, negates some of the value he gives to the team. Many will disagree with me on this, but I think the Yankees have been batting Judge in the wrong spot in the batting order for years. Yes, he comes up more often, but he also comes up with fewer runners on base. The Yankees' approach with Judge, I feel, has hurt the team. He is not a #1 or #2 hitter, nor should he be. The highest Judge should bat is #3. Call me old school, if you must. The Yankees need batters to get on in front of Judge so he can drive them in. If the Yankees bring Aaron Judge back to be a #1 or #2 hitter, they are making a mistake. If they see him in that role, he might not, in actuality, be the best player for this team's lineup.
Aaron Judge is, of course, an outstanding defensive player. I'm making this list as comprehensive as I can, and Judge's value defensively cannot be overlooked. He brings a lot more to the team than just his bat.
Father time wins every time. It is probable that Aaron Judge will not produce at the highest levels through his 30's. As such, a part of the contract, at the best, the back years, will likely be an overpay. This is an important part of the equation. When Judge's decline come? How much of the contract will be an over-pay? The question isn't in which years Aaron Judge will be paid too much, it's how soon will that happen?
It is likely that Aaron Judge will miss time due to injury. The Yankees must have a viable back-up plan. Again, Judge's history (absent the last two years) speaks for itself. The Yankees' back-up plan can't be to hope to find a guy like Matt Carpenter or a player like Tim Locastro to replace Aaron Judge with. Bringing back Aaron Judge means building a solid and strong roster top to bottom. Bringing back Aaron Judge must only be part of the equation for the Yankees. Aaron Judge, alone, especially as he ages, won't win a championship for the Yankees.
Signing Aaron Judge equals exceeding the luxury tax cap. It has to. If the Yankees stay under the cap, Aaron Judge's contract will hurt them in the same way Alex Rodriguez's contract hurt the Texas Rangers. If the Yankees remain committed to staying under the luxury tax, Judge's contract will prevent the Yankees from addressing critical needs and acquiring the necessary players to win World Series.
If Aaron Judge ages quicker than he (and the Yankees) hope, he (and they) do not get a "free pass." The fans will complain and they'll boo. And they will have every right to. I don't boo players, but fans will have very right to be frustrated if the highest paid player isn't performing - in the regular season and/or the post season. With the big salary also comes that big expectation. Aaron Judge will be getting paid to perform and be a superstar.
But, fans, no matter where he goes, will boo him if he doesn't produce. Again, New York is not so unique in that regard.
Part of taking a huge contract is accepting all that goes with it. That also involves much more scrutiny. Again, with the huge dollars will come huge expectations. You cannot have one without the other. That expectation is magnified in New York with the Yankees. Aaron Judge has to be prepared for that from day one of the new contract and always. It gets hot in the kitchen. It's a different job when you're the big star getting paid the biggest dollars. This is just the way that it is. And no one wants to hear Aaron Judge (or anyone else) complain that it's "too tough." Aaron Judge will be accepting that pressure when he signs for the biggest dollars. The scrutiny and high expectations are part of the equation.
Reporters will also give less Aaron Judge freedom off the field. This also comes with the territory. Aaron Judge has to be prepared for this. (I sense that since Aaron Judge has been such an exemplary person that this shouldn't be an issue, but it is something to consider.)
When Aaron Judge goes through slumps, and/or has poor years, no fan, no one, anywhere, is going to say after he strikes out to end a game, "Yeah, the Yankees lost the game, but that home run chase in 2022 was awesome." 2022 was magical for Aaron Judge, but it is now over. It's history. It is no more relevant than Reggie's three World Series homers or Mantle's Triple Crown... Aaron Judge will be getting paid to produce now and in the future. We can celebrate his legendary season, but that will not shield him from needing to perform at the highest levels always. That is what he'll be getting paid to do.
If Judge leaves, the Yankees need a viable back-up plan. There are other good players out there that might even make the Yankees even more well-rounded. Again, the Yankees need to have a plan to compete in 2023. Does that mean acquiring Trea Turner or Xander Bogaerts or both? Aaron Judge can be replaced. By some metrics, it might even make sense to replace him.
It's possible that the best case scenario for the Yankees is to have Judge sign with another team. The contract in years and dollars might be too much for the Yankees in their current business model. If that's the case, and if the Yankees spend elsewhere, the worst case scenario (Judge leaves) might, in the long term, be the best case scenario.
But, it would be a terrible look for the Yankees if their greatest star went elsewhere. The NEW YORK YANKEES just don't lose their superstars to other teams. Not like this would be. If Judge leaves, it would be a very bad look for the franchise. (It might, in the long term, be the best thing, but it certainly wouldn't look good.)
All things being equal, I want Aaron Judge to stay. Aaron Judge is our superstar. I hope he stays a Yankee. He should be a career Yankee. That being said, I also want the Yankees to invest to make Aaron Judge, and the whole team, winners in 2023.
Buckle-up, this will be one heck of a ride...