At some point over the next four months, reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge will sign a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t know when that will happen – it could be as early as next week’s winter meetings or as early as spring training (like Bryce Harper did four years ago) – but it will happen. I assure you, Judge will not be out of a job when Opening Day is March 30th.
but not much now, after breaking the American League record with 62 home runs and only losing five points on average from the Triple Crown in 2022. The New York Yankees are, of course, trying to keep their franchise player; owner Hal Steinbrenner recently got face to face with Judge to convey how much he wants him to stay, as well as explain the team’s plans for the future.
“I just want him to know how I feel. In case there is any ambiguity or ambiguity, Steinbrenner told NJ.com in November. “We have a lot of room – and Aaron and I have talked about this – for this to happen, and we still have money to do other things… My budget for Judge will be what I feel we can do. This is obviously not limitless. But am I going to make moves before we can – in my opinion, we can sign Aaron. It won’t stop me from signing other people.”
They brought in Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry. and Jock Pederson also contributes:, one of Judge’s closest confidants on the team, although signing a player’s best friends doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get the player (remember when the White Sox signed Yonder Alonso in a failed attempt to woo his brother-in-law, Manny Machado?). The San Francisco Giants, Judge’s hometown team, have money to spend and are working hard to sign him. The owners of the giants are reportedly coveting the star, and last week they invited Judge to a meeting.
As far as we know, the Yankees and the Giants are the two main contenders for Judge, though I wouldn’t rule out the LA Dodgers and other teams (Chicago Cubs? New York Mets?) intervening before how everything is said and done. My hunch—and I emphasize that this is just a hunch—is that Judge is returning to the Yankees, though I’ll admit I’m less sure about that now than I was a few weeks ago.
There’s a chance that Judge will leave the Yankees to sign with the Giants, Dodgers, or someone else. I don’t know what those odds are, but they are definitely not zero. And if Judge does leave, it will be a devastating blow to a Yankees team trying to make it back to the World Series for the first time since 2009. As far as I understand, the Yankees have four options in case Judge leaves. Let’s break down their potential plan B.
Option 1. Sign another star
Plan: The Yankees take the money they were going to give Judge and give it to another big name instead. Carlos Correa and Trea Turner are the only free agents worthy of such a contract this winter, so one of them. The Yankees sign another star and then continue the remainder of their offseason, however, they planned to continue this after re-signing with a referee.
Example: Sign Correa or Turner. Here you go.
Pros: You still have a real star fixing the lineup and selling tickets, although neither Correa nor Turner will stretch the net the way Judge does. The outstanding value of a homegrown superstar is next to impossible. On the field, the Yankees are coming out of the offseason with one of the best players in the world and an elite performer, just not Judge.
Back side: Signing Correa or Turner does not touch the outfield. The Yankees need a right fielder, and they’d rather have a umpire, and they also need a left fielder after Andrew Benintendi became a free agent. New York has domestic shortstops in the form of top prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe (and Isaiah Keener-Falef who is still on the list), so I think the solution would be to sign Correa or Turner and then trade Peraza and/or Volpe. for field assistance (Brian Reynolds?).
Signing a top free agent shortstop and then trading kids for outfield assistants is a viable plan. It also adds more steps in the off-season, and when you add more steps, you increase the chance of mistakes. Besides, the Yankees know that Judge can handle and thrive in New York. I usually think “he can’t handle New York” is an exaggeration, but until you see someone in that environment, you never know. Give Judge’s money to another star and you’ll roll the dice in a way that you won’t by simply re-signing Judge.
Option 2: Spread the money around
Plan: Instead of signing one big star instead of Judge, the Yankees could use the money to sign several second-tier free agents to smaller contracts. Two Bs instead of one A, or one B and two Bs instead of one A. Something like that.
Example: Re-sign Benintendi and sign Brandon Nimmo to fill two corner spots in the outfield and also add, say, Carlos Rodon to the rotation. How’s the sound?
Pros: The Yankees will raise the bar for their roster by moving up several positions. Yes, a downgrade from umpire to Nimmo in right field would be significant, although promotions in left field (a full Benintendi season) and rotation (Rodon over Domingo Hermán) would more than make up for it. Thus, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2013 by signing several veterans to short-term contracts and closing all the gaps in their roster.
It should be noted that the Yankees tried …