Perspectives: A Sigh, A Big Sigh, of Relief
by Paul Semendinger
September 12, 2022
Where did that come from? 10 runs on Saturday and 10 more on Sunday? Holy Cow! Amazing. Wonderful. Fantastic. Season Saving...
The Rays came into the weekend with the need to take it to the Yankees. The Rays failed. Miserably. They didn't just lose, they got crushed. Great teams step up. The Rays didn't. I don't believe in "momentum," but I do believe in teams being able to take the opportunities they are given. The Yankees gave the Rays a huge opportunity with that crushing loss of Friday. The Rays didn't capitalize and the Yankees won two big games. The Yankees might have righted the ship.
Is it over? Not yet, not quite, but the Yankees did step up and send a loud message. "You ain't gonna push us around in our house. No way." For the first time in a long time, the Yankees played like the team they need to be in the post season. It's about time.
Some other thoughts:
The MVP race is shaping up interestingly. A strong argument can be made that Shohei Ohtani is the MVP. A player who can pitch and hit, both extremely well, should almost always be the MVP. Ohtani is doing something no player in history, other than himself, has ever done. He has an ERA under 3.00 while at the same time having over 30 homers. This has never been done in baseball. That doesn't just make him valuable, it makes him priceless. He's a one-of-a-kind.
But, Aaron Judge is having his own season for the ages. We know about the home runs and runs batted in, but there is a chance, an amazing and wonderful and very fun chance, that he could win the Triple Crown.
Right now Aaron Judge is 5th in batting average at .307. Xander Bogaerts leads the league at .319. Judge is in range. It's not super close, but he's in range.
Aaron Judge leads the league in homers (and it's not close). He has 55. The runners-up, Ohtani and Mike Trout both have 34. That race is over. Judge wins.
Judge also leads in RBI's. He is at 121. The player in second is Jose Ramirez with 109. Ramirez could pull this out, but it's not likely.
Imagine the battle between Judge, a triple crown hitter (who also plays excellent defense and is on the team that won the division) vs Ohtani, the pitcher/hitter who is a once-in-forever player, but who is also on a second division club.
Even with Ohtani's skill set, WAR gives this to Judge right now. Judge has 8.7 WAR. Ohtani is at 8.2.
Shohei Ohtani is amazing, but if I were voting, I would give the award to Aaron Judge. This is Judge's season.
History will record the 2022 season as the one where Aaron Judge turned down a significant contract offer, bet on himself, and had a season for the ages. It's a great story. It's one of the best stories in Yankees history, especially recently.
The dilemma for the Yankees is that when they make a contract offer, they have to project what Judge will do going forward, not how he did in the past. Judge has proven that he is an elite player when he stays healthy. He is, quite possibly, the best player in baseball right now. But will he be the best player going forward? That's what the Yankees have to determine.
In some ways, this is a lose/lose for the Yankees. If they go all-in and give Judge a gigantic contract (assuming Judge would decide that he wants to remain a Yankee) and he has a normal age decline as he goes through his 30's, the Yankees will be paying big dollars (huge dollars) for a player past his prime. On the other hand, if Judge goes elsewhere, the Yankees will have lost their superstar player, in his prime, to another team. And that's something that has really never happened to this magnitude in the history of the franchise. When the Yankees didn't resign Reggie Jackson, he was 35 years old. When Robinson Cano and Andy Pettitte left, they were not at Judge's level. Rickey Henderson didn't choose to not come back, the Yankees traded him. The other greats, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio... on and on, never left. Granted, for some, there was no free agency, but if Aaron Judge leaves, it would be monumental. It would be the first time that happened in Yankees history.
On the other hand, here are Albert Pujols' stats through his 30's, which is my concern about Judge getting a huge contract to stay with the Yankees:
Age 30: .312/42/118 (He led the league in homers and rbi's)
Age 31: .299/37/99
Age 32: .285/30/105
Age 33: .258/17/64
Age 34: .272/28/105
Age 35: .244/40/95
Age 36: .268/31/119
Age 37: .241/23/101
Age 38: .245/19/64
Those are nice season, some of them at least, but they are not, to me $37.5 million dollar seasons. Note that Pujols never led the league again in homers or RBI's. And that's Albert Pujols, one of the game's greatest hitters. This was a guy who averaged .334/42/129 through his age 20 decade. Judge is good, he great, but he's not Albert Pujols for his career. The player Judge is most similar to, according to Baseball-Reference is Cody Bellinger. That's a far cry from Pujols.
These last few weeks of 2022 could be franchise altering for the Yankees. If they win a lot, and win the division, and get through the playoffs, and reach the World Series , or even win it, all the hand-wringing and angst was unfounded. If they don't, it's just another season, in a long line of seasons, where the team was good, sometimes very good, but not great. The Yankees used to be defined by greatness. That's what the fans want. That's how the Yankees sell their product. But they just haven't been great for a long time.
If the Yankees win it all, maybe Aaron Judge decides to stay...If they don't, I can see him leaving. I still think, all things being equal, that Aaron Judge won't be back. As I have said many times, I don't fault him for that. This will be his once and only chance to determine his baseball future. There's nothing wrong with that. But maybe a Triple Crown, an MVP, and a World Series changes that. Whatever happens, it'll be an interesting few months ahead of us...
Let's Go Yankees!