I know, I know - no chance the Yankees trade Aaron Judge. This would be a huge mistake. I'm crazy. As much as all that may be true, hear me out for a moment and you might think this wouldn't be as crazy of an idea as it sounds.
Aaron Judge is an All World player that has been the closest thing to a face of the franchise for the Yankees since Derek Jeter hung up his cleats. He's also entering his age 30 season, and due to enter free agency immediately after the 2022 season. As a quick frame of reference, Freddie Freeman is looking for a 6 year deal worth $30M/yr at age 32, so it would fair to assume Judge will require something in the range of 7-8 years at $30+M or something close to it when he hits free agency at age 31. With what we've seen out of the Yankee organization in recent years, can any of us feel too confident that they'll actually re-sign him at those figures? If they aren't going to be willing to go to those lengths to re-sign the current face of the franchise, than they should try to maximize their return, rather than allow him to walk in the off season. I firmly believe the Yankees and Judge will work out a long term deal, but given the chance they might not,...what should they do? That's the premise I'm playing out here:
I think they should trade him now if they don't believe they're going to sign him. Again, this sounds crazy, but there's a way they can lose an All World player like Judge and actually get better.
Finding a trade partner is the toughest part of this plan, because the Yankees want to continue to compete in 2022, and can't lose Judge's on field production without replacing it if they intend on doing so. Any team that doesn't believe they have a significant chance at the playoffs in 2022, will have little interest in giving up high value assets on any player with an expiring contract. Divisional rivals and cross town rivals are eliminated for obvious reasons as well. It makes no sense for both teams to just trade out one great player for another, so the only way the Yankees can replace Judge's production would be to flip prospects to acquire other players. So, I was thinking the acquiring team would need to offer two top 30 MLB prospects to acquire Aaron Judge from the Yankees. According to BP's most recent prospect rankings, 5 teams fit all of these criteria: SD(11, 26), SF(9,30), STL(7,28), Det(4,6), Sea(3,15,21). Detroit is more of a fringe playoff hopeful. This would be an extreme move for them at this stage, and for that reason, they're an easy elimination. The Cardinals look like an easy elimination as well, because they don't usually enter into risky deals at all, especially for rental players. I could see significant reasons for each of the other three to do this though. SD is in win now mode and needed another bat, but their biggest failure was pitching in 2021. SF could have Yaz and Judge in the corners and back to back in the lineup. I think the best option would be Seattle though.
Seattle has three prospects in the top 21, which makes a trade for Judge less about emptying the farm and more about going all in. Acquiring Judge via trade, accompanied with a rumored Kris Bryant signing and suddenly, the Mariners are the powers in the AL West, since they've already added Robbie Ray and Adam Frazier to a young core including previous #1 prospect Jarred Kelenic. The Mariners could extend Judge($30M), sign Bryant($28M), and could bring in Kyle Schwarber($18M) as a LH 1B/DH if they choose to, and still have a payroll sitting about $20M below their 2018 team payroll of $175M. It could be very tempting for a team like Seattle to add a player like Judge to push them over the edge and give them a firm 3-4 year playoff window while all the young players are still under team control.
As for the Yankees end of this trade, two top 30 prospects is an overpay for one year of Judge. It may not seem like it to some people, but it actually is. BBTV places a combined value on the #3 and #21 prospects at 113. They have Judge valued at around 40.9. Those numbers all sound extreme, but Judge is due to make $18M this year and only has one year of team control left, the 40.9M is surplus value. His actual value in the 2022 season could be closer to 55-60 without taking his contract into consideration. The idea of acquiring a single player with that kind of production is why the Mariners may agree to the overpay, but they may need to have a window to try to work out an extension with Judge if they're going to agree to such an overpay. The Yankees should welcome this, because it keeps Judge far away from Yankee stadium most of the time.
With these two prospects in hand, the Yankees could turn around and trade them, or some of their own prospects for some of the players we've all been dreaming about in trades; Matt Olson, Ketel Marte, Luis Castillo, German Marquez, Bryan Reynolds. Maybe the Yankees flip #3 Julio Rodriguez to Cincy, with two lower level prospects for Luis Castillo, then trade #21 George Kirby with two lower level prospects to Arizona for Ketel Marte. Then, they can go out and sign Freddie Freeman and Seiya Suzuki and all of a sudden, the team looks much more formidable. Freeman replaces Judge's bat, Suzuki and Marte add some defensive flexibility and offensive production as well. They could trade for Olson instead of Marte and sign Story if they wanted also. It opens up more possibilities because it gives the Yankees a couple top notch prospects that could help them acquire multiple players via trade without emptying the farm system.
Here's a depth chart after these trades:
LF Suzuki, Hicks, Stanton
CF Hicks, Marte, Florial
RF Gallo, Stanton, Suzuki
3B Gio, DJL,
SS Marte, Gio, Torres
2B DJL, Torres, Marte
1B Freeman, DJL
Rotation - Cole, Castillo, Monty, Taillon, and whoever makes the cut at #5 starter among German, Gil, Schmidt, Garcia, Cortes with Sevy being what he should be - a wild card.
I don't expect the Yankees to entertain the thought of trading away Aaron Judge and fully expect him to retire a Yankee. But, the financial approach of this organization has shown that if they do choose to re-sign him, they'll be cutting corners everywhere else on this team to avoid spending "too much" for many years after. Given that fact I'd rather they explore ways to restructure now, than just watch him walk or stop all other spending because they have Cole, Judge, and Stanton under big money deals.
What would you do?