Tuesday Discussion: What Would You Pay Aaron Judge?
We have a great discussion question this week for our writers:
If you were the Yankees' general manager, what would you offer Aaron Judge as your best contract offer in years and salary?
Here are their answers:
Mike Whiteman - If Aaron Judge has an MVP-type season and leads the Yankees to the World Series title I'd offer him $40 million/year for 7 years, with some early opt out opportunities and some low-hanging incentives to add more time. I'd also offer him the position of Captain, as if he continues to carry the team on his shoulders like he is now he certainly would be worthy of the title.
Now, I have no delusions that he will perform at peak level for the duration of the contract, though more and more I think that with good conditioning and a little luck he can be a productive player for a number of years. The Yankees have to realize that some of the return on the deal are the swarms of Yankee fans wearing the #99 jerseys at Yankee Stadium - and on the road as well.
The Yankees are about stars, winning, tradition....and marketing. If the Yankees win it all this year and Judge leads them there, he is the true Yankee, and the team can (and should) sell that for a long time.
If the Yanks experience another early postseason exit, then the decision gets a bit harder, and some frank conversations ensue within the Yankee brain trust.
Lincoln Mitchell - My first offer to Judge would be $200 million for five years. That would make Judge the highest paid player in the game while still allowing him another opportunity to sign another contract after four years. However, my sense is that Judge would not take that. I would probably then offer him $280 million for eight years and go up to about $295 million if necessary. That would not be a great contract with for the Yankees, but it if you are not willing to overpay for the tail end of contracts, then you can never sign free agents.
Tamar Chalker - Whatever it takes to keep him in New York. Seriously, the Yankees made a mistake not signing him before the season and they have to know the fan base will not take kindly to seeing Judge in another uniform next year.
Cary Greene - The cost of living associated with working in the Metro NY area is extremely high. The cost of living in Manhattan is a whopping 154% higher than the national average and the median cost of homes in the five boroughs of New York is about $662,535, compared with a national median of $293,349.
Brian Cashman made Aaron Judge an offer, which at the time reflected Cashman's assessment of where Judge's market was. Judge refused because he believed his market was higher. Presently, Judge is winning the bet. If he can stay healthy and put up a career year, he'll have a chance to set his market in free agency. There will be a number of teams interested in driving his asking price up - perhaps their goal won't even be to sign Judge - but rather, to cause Cashman pain and force him to overspend.
Let's face it, there are only five or six teams that could possibly sign Aaron Judge, barring a dark horse team from entering the fray which does happen every now and then, thinking back to last offseason when the Rangers nabbed two of the top free-agents - Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.
If Judge succeeds in fielding record offers, he could easily become the game's highest player and he doesn't even need Brian Cashman's help in order to do that - though the mere presence of Cashman being interested will work against the Yankees chances of retaining Judge, because it will force other teams who really are interested in spending what it would take to steak Judge away to have to break thresholds never before considered.
Aaron Judge could easily become the game's highest paid player. If Cashman wants to retain him, he'll have to exceed the best offer by a commensurate amount that reflects the cost of living associated with all that New York City is about. San Francisco is another team that will need to account for that as the cost of living there is also through-the-roof high. Boston is another city that is absurdly expensive to live and work in.
My answer is therefore that Brian Cashman will need to make an offer ten to twenty percent higher than any offer Judge receives if his intent is to sign Judge. If I were the GM of the Yankees, I would walk into the dugout after Judge hits his next home run and ask him and his family out to dinner. Then, I'd put an agreement in place to extend Aaron Judge at whatever number Judge would start at. I wouldn't let the three-ring circus even start.
Cashman needs to eat some humble-pie immediately. He needs to let Judge know that he's had a change of heart and he needs to apologize for doing his job so poorly that he jeopardized what is a perfect match between the game's best player and the game's most storied franchise. Cashman is shrewd, but he's proven that he'll pay a player who he feels deserves it. It's time to get on with things as it's in the interests of all parties concerned and most importantly, the fans of NY City love Aaron Judge. They would want Cashman to be proactive.
Andy Singer - The Aaron Judge extension is going to be incredibly tricky. I actually understood the earlier leaked figures for both sides; I can understand why the Yankees were uncomfortable going more than 7 years for Judge and prior to 2022, $30.5 million AAV seemed perfectly reasonable, while I also can understand Judge's belief in himself to prove that he's capable of being the best player in the league. Now, here we are...Judge is coming very close to winning this argument, and there is little doubt but that he has made himself some money thus far. Some will point to durability issues in Judge's past as a reason to proceed with caution, but I have maintained since 2018 that the injuries he suffered were fluky in nature, and not indicative of further wear-and-tear injuries. While I do worry about how a player of Judge's size will age, we already have some evidence of how large outfielders age defensively. While Jason Heyward's offense tanked following his free agent deal with the Cubs, he has maintained a performance floor through defense that has aged gracefully even despite his size. Judge is bigger than Heyward, but he also has a much higher offensive floor than Heyward ever had, which makes me bullish on his ability to age gracefully. Before I back up the Brinks truck though, let's look at some comparable players and their recent free agent deals:
Each of these players was younger than Aaron Judge at the time their free agent deal was signed, however Aaron Judge is also neck-and-neck with Mookie Betts for the best player in the non-Mike Trout division on a rate basis with 7.4 bWAR/650 plate appearances. Correa, Lindor, and Seager all have signed their deals most recently, and are not Judge's equal on a rate basis. Trout, Betts, and Harper all likely signed team-friendly deals from an AAV perspective in exchange for longer contracts. This combination of facts gives us an idea of where the AAV for a deal should sit for Aaron Judge. I think that $35-38 million AAV is the right ballpark; the question is years. 7 years didn't get it done when the Yankees offered it prior to the start of the season, but I think the Yankees should work in tiers with a contract. The first year of Aaron Judge's deal will be his age-31 season, and while I expect him to age more gracefully than we might assume, I would ask Judge to look at one of the following offers:
6 years, $40 million AAV ($240 million total)
7 years, $37 million AAV ($259 million total)
8 years, $32.5 million AAV ($260 million total)
The first two offers make Judge the highest paid position player in MLB, and I think he's earned that when we take into account the discounts Trout and Betts gave their respective teams. However, if he wants the deal to run through his age-39 season, I think he'd have to give a discount similar to what Trout and Betts gave, particularly in light of Judge's likely performance at ages 37 and 38. If I were Aaron Judge, I'd take Option 2 as a framework that could be tweaked with escalators and signing bonuses. Even if Judge only is worth an average of 3 WAR per season over the life of the deal, $259 million is only a slight overpay relative to performance (if we accept $8 million as the generally given value of 1 WAR on the free agent market). Frankly, I still think I might be light relative to the rest of the market, and I have confidence that Judge will remain an MVP-candidate through at least the first 3 years of a deal. Flags fly forever, so I'd gladly pay more if Judge can help anchor a World Series lineup for a couple of seasons.
Paul Semendinger - I wouldn't want to go more than six years, but if the seventh year is the deal breaker, I'd go there, but absolutely no longer than that. Judge will be 31-years old next year. If I were the Yankees, I would not want to be paying Aaron Judge huge money for his decline years. While everyone wants the 2022 Aaron Judge on the team, those same people are not going to want the 2028 Aaron Judge eating $35 million (plus) of the team's budget.
I hear fans saying "Giancarlo Stanton is old." He's only 32-years-old. Judge will be there in an instant.
In his late 30's, Judge won't be a plus value as a defender. He might not even be an outfielder. Unless the Yankees' business model changes, and I don't think it will, they will use the luxury cap as a hard cap. There's a high likelihood that Aaron Judge will be a DH eating up a lot of cap space. If the Yankees go for a long-term deal, the same fans today will be saying, "I love Judge, but man, he's killing us now." They said this about C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira... and even Derek Jeter.
We've seen tons of huge contracts in years and dollars given to players in their early 30's. These, most often, just don't pay off. These hurt teams' ability to acquire other necessary talent. These big contracts get in the way of a team winning a championship. In 2028, no one is going to say, "But he helped us win a World Series in 2022." They're going to say, "2022 was six years ago... we need to win now." This is how it works. When Judge hits .258/22/75 that year, there won't be so many #99 jerseys sold.
I keep hearing that the Yankees can afford to pay Judge because the great young players will all be contributing by then and they'll have cost friendly contracts. Really? Which great young position players have the Yankees developed who have made an impact on a World Championship team over the last decade or longer? Jose Tabata? Juan Miranda? Clint Frazier? Gary Sanchez? We always hear, "This time the young players are the real deal. They might not have been the last time, but this time they are." Remember when the Yankees went all in on all those international free agents - all who were going to be big time players? That was 2014. Here are those players: Dermis Garcia, Nelson Gomez, Juan DeLeon, Jonathan Amundaray, Wilkerman Garcia, Hyo-Jun Park, Miguel Flames, Antonio Arias, Diego Castillo. Yeah, it didn't work out.
That happens a lot.
If the Yankees' have a cap, and if they don't develop great young talent, especially enough to off-set a huge contract for a player just a few years from his decline years, then it makes little sense to go past six-years for Judge. They need to have the financial flexibility to fill the gaps that will occur. If Judge is clogging the payroll as a past-his-prime player, that will get in the way of winning.
I wish it weren't so.
$30.5M for 7 years, the Yankees' offer, was more than fair. I will give Judge huge credit for betting on himself and coming up huge (so far). It's been great to see. But, I don't want to pay him huge money in eight years for what he did in 2022. As such, I up the offer in annual value, but reduce the years to six.
Six years, $40 million a year. $240 million dollars. That's it. If that's not enough to keep Aaron Judge in pinstripes, then I save my money for Juan Soto or whoever is the next great young free agent and I pay, big time. I'm happy to pay for a player's prime years and then his decline. I'm less interested in paying, almost exclusively, for his decline years. It's unfortunate for Judge that it took him too long to reach the big leagues and that his free agency came later than most other young stars. The again, the Yankees initial offer was for over $200 million. At some point, offering a player that much money is not an insult. It's just not.