On Friday, Christian Yelich signed a seven year contract extension to remain with the Brewers. The total value of the deal is nine years for around $215 million including the two years remaining on his previous contract.
My immediate reaction upon hearing the news was surprise at the relatively light amount for a player of Yelich’s ilk. Indeed, Jeff Passan noted on the Michael Kay Show that Yelich “left so much money on the table,” to stay with Milwaukee.
The ripples of this deal will be felt around the league, and has a chance to redefine the extension market for the league’s top players. One such player is Aaron Judge. The Yankees superstar will enter his first season of arbitration looking to reestablish himself as one of the game’s greats. What does Yelich’s deal mean for the Yankees in their pursuit to keep the face of the franchise in pinstripes?
The similarities between the Judge’s and Yelich’s situations are striking. Both are offensive juggernauts who truly came into their own within the last three years. Yelich signed this extension with two years left on his previous deal, which mirrors the two years of team control left for Judge should extension talks occur during or after the current season. With this in mind, there are some areas in which Yelich exceeds Judge, and vice versa, which makes projecting Judge’s extension a trickier proposition.
Judge is arguably a more complete player than Yelich, and where Judge truly outshines the former MVP is in the field. While both possess decent speed, Judge has a much stronger and more accurate arm, totaling 21 outfield assists in the last three years versus Yelich’s 12. In fact, Yelich is a rather mediocre outfielder, ranking 100 out of 133 with minus-four outs above average last season. Conversely, Judge is elite, tying for first in the MLB in defensive runs saved in right field with 19, and 13th in outs above average with eight.
While Judge may have the edge in the field, Yelich holds the upper hand in the batter’s box. Over the last two seasons, Yelich surpassed Judge in nearly every category. Whether it’s in OPS+ (172 vs 147), wRC+ (170 vs 146), wOBA (.432 vs .387), ISO (.307 vs .258) or wRAA, (59.0 vs 27.6) the stats agree that Yelich is the more polished hitter. He also strikes out far less, however Judge does walk at a higher clip.
Another factor possibly working against Judge’s earning potential is his availability on the field due to the injuries he’s sustained over his career. Judge is doubtful to start the season after tests confirmed he has a stress fracture in his first right rib.
Should his recovery timetable lean toward the more conservative approach, this would be the third consecutive season in which Judge misses considerable time. However, given the fact that two absences were the result of freak plays — a broken wrist on a hit-by-pitch and the fractured rib on an effort play — this does not cause much concern regarding Judge’s durability.
Taking all this into account, the Yankees would be justified in offering Judge a contract in the same ballpark as the one signed by Yelich. It would be a relative bargain considering the amount Mike Trout signed for and the numbers being thrown around by Mookie Betts’ camp. Add up Judge’s pluses and minuses relative to Yelich and you arrive at roughly equal players. Would Judge be willing to take a similar “loyalty discount” to stay with the Yankees, as it appears Yelich may have done?
Supposing the Yankees signed Judge to a replica of Yelich’s overall deal, that extension would run through Judge’s age-37 season, and count approximately $24 million annually against the team’s payroll. In a vacuum this would be a team-friendly contract given Judge’s potential. However, the Yelich contract, the few blemishes on Judge’s record, and the prospect of Judge hitting free agency as an over-30 player may limit the ceiling of extension talks.
It’s also worrying that Judge not only knew he had possibly injured himself last season, but that he also may have hidden this information from the team. How does this affect the trust between player and club going forward? Would this non-disclosure of the injury be grounds for the Yankees to reduce their offer?
Speculation aside, Aaron Judge is undoubtedly in the stratosphere of the league’s elite. The combination of his raw ability, poise in the postseason, and leadership make him perhaps the single most important piece in New York’s dynasty-building efforts. The Bombers need Judge as they chase number twenty-eight, and would do well to make him a Yankee lifer and future Monument Park member.