THURSDAY Discussion: Judge and the Off-Season
December 8, 2022
We asked our writers the following:
What are your thoughts on Judge's return, and now that he's back, what would your idea of a "good" offseason look like?
Here are their answers...
Paul Semendinger - The Yankees had to bring Judge back. I think he is set up now to be among the top-five Yankees in bWAR of all time. (Please see here.)
I think $40 million is a ton of money. But I want the players to be paid. My concern is never how much a player earns, but how the Yankees handle that impact on their salary structure for the team.
If this deal prevents the Yankees, at any time, over the next nine years, from putting a great team on the field ("We'd get Player X, but we can't afford him because of Judge...") then it's a problem. If that's the case, the contract will be an albatross. Judge is just part of making the Yankees great. If the contract holds them back on getting other talent, it's no different than when A-Rod was on the Texas Rangers - his contract prevented the team from acquiring the necessary talent to compete.
I also believe that with Stanton, Cole, LeMahieu, Rizzo... all in their 30's, the time to win is now. The Yankees must go all-in for 2023.
The Yankees need a left fielder. I'm not as high as most on Andrew Benintendi. I'd rather see them get Bryan Reynolds. Maybe there is a player no one is considering...
The Yankees should now also secure Carlos Rodon. They need another starting pitcher.
So, I'm thrilled Judge is back so long as the Yankees continue to use their resources to make the team great. If the Yankees now stop spending and don't spend big for the next nine years, I'll state that I'd rather he have left because the end result would be the same - no championships.
Lincoln Mitchell - On balance, I am glad to see Aaron Judge back in pinstripes. The contract is massive, but does not strike me as an overpay in today’s market. Nonetheless, we should recognize that it is likely that Judge probably has no more than three or four years remaining as a truly elite player. Resigning Judge was a necessary, but not sufficient, move for the Yankees if they want to have a real shot at wining the World Series sin 2023-2024. However, they still need to do more during this off-season. Judge could hit 20 fewer home runs and have an OPS+ 150 points lower than last year and still be a very good player, but the Yankees would not be as good. The Yankees still need to add another starting pitcher and a left-handed hitting outfielder who can hit. My fear is that the Yankees front office will see this as the big move of the offseason and then tell us that prospects and better health will make the difference in 2023. The problem is that every team can say that and many teams have young players at least as good as those the Yankees have
Patrick Gunn - Good on the Yankees for paying their man. Judge's performance called for a massive raise - certainly more than the Yankees' offer before the 2021 season. Considering everything they did to push Judge away (announcing their offer to the media, almost going to arbitration with their best player), the Yankees should be grateful that Judge chose them over the Giants and Padres. Long-term contracts usually age poorly, but this is about more than just money. Judge is the Yankees' first homegrown superstar since Robinson Canó and I'd argue the Yankees should have kept him even in hindsight of his last decade. Judge is somehow playing at an even higher level than Canó's Yankee years. Yes, the Yankees got some hitter-friendly baseballs this year (highly recommend Bradford William Davis and Dr. Meredith Wills' research if you can), but Judge has been consistently a top-five player every season. He's still been a five-win player when he misses 40-50 games and he's been healthy the last two seasons. The Yankees had to meet Judge's high standards and they did.
Now, as far as the offseason goes, the Bombers have to keep going. Resigning Tommy Kahnle is a good start and a much-needed bullpen boost. New York could still use another starter, a lefty-hitting outfielder, maybe another reliever, and some clarity regarding their infield. The Yankees have the money to get Carlos Rodón and Andrew Benintendi/Masataka Yoshida and another reliever if they want. Bringing back Judge was essential; now it's time to build the best possible team around him.
James Vlietstra - The Yankees had no choice but to ante up and pay Judge. The optics would have been terrible if they let him go. On the field, it would have set the team back years. As they currently sit, they are already behind where they finished last year, due to loss of free agents. At the moment it feels good to have gotten Judge to stay, but their work isn’t done. An arm to replace Taillon is needed as well as another bat or two.
Mike Whiteman - I'm very pleased to see the return of Aaron Judge. He's a great player, and a pleasure to watch/follow on a daily basis.
A successful offseason: Re-sign Judge (check) Fortify the bullpen (check) Address left field (waiting) Add another high-level starting pitcher (waiting)
Cary Greene - Please see my article at 3:00 p.m. today.
Ethan Semendinger - Don't get me wrong here, I am happy that Judge is back. From what we can see he's fantastic with the media, he is someone who gets along with all of his teammates, he is great with fans (and especially kids). As a person, Judge is exactly who and what I want the Yankees to have as a franchise icon. The money is a bit high for my liking, but if the Yankees continue to spend and not use this as the excuse for not spending elsewhere (as we've seen this playbook time and time again) I will not complain. It was the cost of business.
That being said, the Yankees have a lot of holes. They don't have a left fielder, they need another bullpen arm or two (as if having Miguel Castro in the ALCS bullpen wasn't telling), and they could use another top-of-the-line starting pitcher. There are options (though few) to cover each on the free agent market.
They also need to shed the salaries of Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks. I have some plans for how all of these things could be addressed. Hopefully I can get them to you throughout next week.
Andy Singer - How do I feel? Relieved. The Yankees badly misplayed negotiations in the Spring, acting like just another big market club as opposed to THE YANKEES. They would have been able to lock Judge up for a shorter, more team-friendly (relatively speaking, of course) contract back then. Now, the Yankees needed to lock up their franchise star for good, and everyone knew it wouldn't come cheap. There were real threats out there to take the Yankees' best player away, and it was nice to see the Yankees finally fight to keep a player.
Reports have come out that Cashman implored Hal Steinbrenner to be personally involved and invested in this negotiation, as Hal has publicly stated previously that he is uncomfortable and often out of his element as the guy in the middle of a player negotiation. I am very hard on Steinbrenner, but he deserves kudos here for both closing the deal and opening the Yankees' piggy bank. From a pure performance standpoint, is this contract an overpay? Of course, but the Yankees can't realistically compete for a World Series in the next 2-3 seasons without Judge. Judge is the right guy to take the mantle from Jeter as the next Captain, and re-signing him tells the clubhouse that the Yankees are ready to roll for this season and beyond.
According to Fangraphs, the Yankees' current luxury tax calculation stands at roughly $266 million, just $7 million from the third luxury tax threshold the team wouldn't cross last season. Unless the Yankees can unload some significant portions of some large contracts (Donaldson, Hicks, Stanton, Torres, etc.), the Yankees cannot fill the other holes on this team without crossing into the next tier of luxury tax penalties, which stands at $293 million in 2023. I believe they will do that, as there is a significant amount of salary set to come off the payroll in 2024 ($52 million by my back of the napkin math). Take a look at who comes off:
Luis Severino, $15 million
Josh Donaldson, $15 million ($8 million buyout in 2024 will be on the payroll)
Frankie Montas, $7.7 million (projected)
Harrison Bader, $5.2 million
IKF, $6 million (projected)
Wandy Peralta, $3.1 million (projected)
Some of that is easily replaceable with lower cost options internally with a hopefully productive year by the farm system, without needing significant supplementation from outside the organization. Hal has proven willing to open his wallet, and I think it's likely he'll be willing to break through the next tier for one season, so I think the new budget is $293 million for 2023. That would allow the Yankees to get a lot done, assuming they can move a contract or two.
Carlos Rodon is a great fit. I don't dislike the rotation right now, but a top-tier pitcher puts the rotation into a no-doubt top-3 rotation tier in all of baseball. I loved Rodon when he could have been obtained for pennies after the White Sox non-tendered him a couple of years ago, and he's been nothing short of brilliant in the two years since. Word is that Rodon really likes the Yankees, and he pitches with a fire that I really like. That Rodon is also a lefty is just too perfect to ignore. The Yankees need to make this happen.
The Yankees could also use a left fielder. One of my favorite options, Masataka Yoshida was just overpaid spectacularly by the Red Sox, so he's off the board. With two elite defenders in RF and CF, I want an offense-first left fielder. My favorite remaining options are, in order:
Brandon Nimmo (free agent)
Bryan Reynolds (trade target)
Michael Brantley (free agent)
Michael Conforto (free agent
Brantley/Conforto are 3A/3B for me, and I think they're better options than people realize, and fit better into the budget and timeline for some good prospects on the way. Nimmo's projected salary likely doesn't fit the $293 million budget with Rodon also aboard. I'm personally lukewarm on Reynolds, but if he doesn't cost one of Volpe or Dominguez, I'm interested above the budget options. I didn't list Benintendi, because I believe he is due for some strong offensive regression and I don't want to commit a long-term contract to him.
I also firmly believe the Yankees should be in on Sean Murphy, but I don't expect it to happen, and there are more pressing matters to tend to. I think Trevino's value will plummet some with a worse bat (in all likelihood) and added pressure on his poor arm to control the running game (which will increase significantly in 2023 with the new rule changes), but the pitching staff loves throwing to him, so I'm still okay with going into 2023 with Trevino/Higgy one more time.
In short, the Yankees are on their way to a very good offseason. Judge and Kahnle are excellent signings for the team, and if they get Rodon and one of the left fielders I mentioned above, this is an "A" offseason for the Yankees.