The Tuesday Discussion: Aaron Judge Going Forward…
This week we posed the following to our writers:
It is almost getting to be time for the Yankees to make a long-term decision on Aaron Judge. He will become a free agent after the 2022 season. If you were the GM, what would you do with Aaron Judge right now? Should he be traded? Should he be offered an extension? (If so, how much and for how many years? What would it take to keep him?) Should you wait until he becomes a free agent and risk the possibility that he’ll just leave the franchise?In short, what to do with Aaron Judge?
Here are their answers:
Derek McAdam – The Yankees should not even consider giving Aaron Judge any sort of contract extension until they get towards the end of the 2022 season. Judge needs to prove over the next two seasons that he can continue to produce at the plate, but most importantly remain healthy. There should be no rush to get an agreement done this year.
Tom Russo – If I was the GM, I would undoubtedly be working on an extension for Aaron Judge. Even with the injury history, the impact he has on the game is undeniable. His home run power is invaluable, and even when he’s not hitting he provides Gold Glove caliber defense in right field and has easily the best outfield arm in the Majors, the impact of which is seen by how unwilling opponents consistently are to run on him. It’s true the Yankees have a lot of contract decisions coming in the next two or three years, but to me, Judge is the one that is most important to lock up because the Yankees haven’t had a player have this kind of an impact on the fans since Derek Jeter, and even he didn’t get a whole section of Yankee Stadium renamed after him. That’s how important Judge is to the Yankees. At the end of the day, I suspect you can only keep two out of three of Judge, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez, and I will happily let Sanchez walk and keep Judge. In terms of contracts, that’s a bit more difficult, but I think somewhere in the vicinity of what the Yankees just gave DJ LeMahieu (6 Years, $90 Million), is a good barometer. I’d be looking at something in the 5 Year, $100-120 Million range as a solid offer given he will be 30 by the time the talks roll around, and I think he’d accept it.
Chris O’Connor – When it comes to Aaron Judge, there are three options that I see, and each one comes with positives and negatives. The first option is to extend him to with a large contract. This can be a great thing. The Yankees certainly have the money to spend and Judge (when healthy) is not only of the best players in the sport, but he is also next in line to serve as captain of the team. He is, however, already 29 years old with a very lengthy injury history. How can you give him a contract that befits someone of his talent when he has not played 70% of any season since 2017? He is also one of the biggest, if not the biggest, position player in league history and there is no precedent for how someone as large as he is will age. The second option is to trade him before he becomes a free agent so the team does not lose him for nothing. The benefit here is avoiding the risk of a large contract becoming an albatross and recouping some value out of Judge. The downsides are that it would be incredibly difficult to get good value out of a player with Judge’s ability and injury history, let alone his pending free agency. Trading him would almost certainly mean a talent downgrade in years where the Yankees are contending for titles. These are also the New York freakin’ Yankees. Since when do they trade away the face of their team because they do not want to pay him? It should be noted that the Red Sox just did this with Mookie Betts. It really is a different game today than it ever has been. The third option is to wait, let him finish his service time, and allow him to become a free agent before making a decision. The main benefit here is that the team avoids making a decision without all possible information. They can see if he can put his injury issues behind him, but if he can not, they avoid making a big commitment that can become a liability in the future. The downside is that this puts the team in no man’s land, and the story of Judge’s free agency can become a potential distraction throughout 2022. Going down this route means that if he has a great, healthy next two seasons, they would face competition in signing him to a huge deal, which might not be a great idea to begin with. If he does not stay healthy or maintain his level of play, and they let him walk in free agency, they can lose him without recouping any value.
Paul Semendinger – This is the most difficult decision facing the Yankees for a ton of reasons:
Aaron Judge can’t seem to stay healthy
Aaron Judge, when he is on, is an elite talent
The Yankees can’t let him walk after 2022
I believe Aaron Judge is going to want a huge contract in years and dollars – and he just won’t be worth it long term.
The Yankees can’t trade him because they’ll never get equal worth and the Yankees just don’t trade their superstars… right?
Then again… In 1975, they traded Bobby Murcer, who, at the time, was a somewhat similar player in iconic stature to Judge. That trade of Murcer netted the Yankees Bobby Bonds. Bonds was later traded for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa. Soon championship flags were flying in the Bronx.
No matter what the Yankees do here, the risks are huge.
If the Yankees extend him and he can’t stay healthy and they have an albatross contract it’ll be bad for Judge and the Yankees
If the Yankees let him walk after 2022, they’d be sending a huge message that will be received negatively by the fan base. The last iconic Yankees to walk were Robbie Cano and Andy Pettitte. I’d venture that Judge is more iconic than them.
I think, if I were the GM, knowing the huge risks here that I would wait out the 2021 season and then make a reasonable 3-4 year offer at good, but not great money. If Judge takes it, great! (I doubt he would.) If he rejects the deal, I would make a huge splash with a blockbuster trade. It would be tough, but I’d hope for the opportunity to fix some of the things that are hurting the team (the need for a quality lefty bat, a starting pitcher) and address those flaws through a big deal.
But, in doing so, I’d be prepared to have to explain to the fans why (a year later) the guy I traded is hitting 50 bombs a year for the Angels…
There isn’t an easy answer here. Much of this will be decided by Aaron Judge himself.
Mike Whiteman – Three seasons ago, a sizeable extension for Aaron Judge seemed almost like a no-brainer. Coming off a sterling rookie season in 2017 and a solid start in 2018, the face of the franchise was in front of our eyes.
Since Summer 2018, Judge’s ability to stay on the field has dimmed his luster, and a big deal would be foolhardy, and almost certainly isn’t coming.
That all being said, Judge is a talented player the Yanks certainly should be interested in hanging onto. If I’m Brian Cashman, I’m exploring now a short extension through 2023 or 2024, maybe with an option year, which covers his right fielder through age 32/33. Judge’s agents wouldn’t like him going back onto the market at age 32/33, but perhaps the financial stability of such an extension would be enticing.
*** Ethan Semendinger – While my biggest hot take has been that the Yankees should trade Aaron Judge, I have to accept that it was never going to happen and his value at this point is likely far to low to risk damaging the fanbase. That being said, there is some recent precedent about a team trading away a superstar in the AL East, of which getting rid of fan-favorite players (Mookie Betts) has been common in Boston.
At this point in time, I think the best thing for the Yankees to do is to wait until the end of 2021 before even considering a contract extension with Judge. Nobody doubts his production when he is on the field. Nobody doubts his impact of bringing fans to the games. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Yankees fan who wasn’t concerned about his health and injury history. If he can stay healthy for 2021, I think that helps Judge to earn a longer-term spot with the team.
Now, if I was the GM I would just let Judge walk. Offer a fair deal just under his value and let him decide to leave the franchise, a la Robinson Cano. The Yankees have OF talent coming up from the minor leagues soon and keeping around expensive and aging vets prevents young studs from making the MLB. The Yankees already have an OF with injury problems controlled long-term in Aaron Hicks, and the likes of Dominguez and Florial could allow Hicks to move to a corner OF spot. It’d be risky and wouldn’t win the favorability of fans, but I’d rather not watch Judge break down in his mid-30’s with this team.