Aaron Judge is having a 2022 season that transcends the sport. You can spend a lot of time on the MVP race and how voters should look at the Yankees’ right fielder, but the truth of that matter is that Judge and Shohei Ohtani are frankly above mere MVP discussions. The latter is truly a unicorn in the history of the sport, and the former may just be having the greatest season by a Yankee, ever, and the best in the post-Barry Bonds era.
There is no wrong time to put up this kind of campaign, but if there ever was a time to choose it, both of these players did it well. Ohtani will be a free agent following the end of the 2023 season, and already agreed to a $30 million contract for next year with the Angels, a record for an arbitration year.
As every Yankees and baseball fan is well aware, Judge will be a free agent following this year. To the likely MVP’s credit, after many questioned his decision to hold firm and turn down a lucrative seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer from the Yankees prior to Opening Day, Judge looks like a genius and is about to cash in big time on the bet he placed on himself.
GM Brian Cashman has spoken in the past about the guiding principal of free agency — not specifically about this Judge situation, but more in a general sense. Once a player gets there, anything can happen; just ask the Braves and Freddie Freeman. Judge is in fact on the open market, and while that sounds awfully vague, there’s something to be taken from that.
Aaron Judge, the Yankees superstar and the absolute backbone of this team, will reach the open market at the end of the year. And with only a few days left in the regular season, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on this situation that the Yankees find themselves on.
For a variety of reasons that we’ll get to, the Yankees are in a position that’s strangely unique in baseball history. Free agency has been around for quite awhile, and the Yankees aren’t the first team to be threatened with the possibility of losing their superstar.
Once upon a long while ago, the Pirates saw Bonds leave for San Francisco (awfully enough, a rumored destination for Judge). More recently, the Nationals saw homegrown MVP Bryce Harper depart to a division rival in the Phillies. The Yankees even made the controversial decision to let the excellent Robinson Canó sign with Seattle after 2013. However, none of these situations truly stack up with what the Yankees currently face with Judge, who is almost certainly having the greatest walk year in baseball history.
First and foremost, with all due respect, the Yankees aren’t the Pirates; there is an ocean-sized gap in terms of financial capabilities for these two franchises. Although the Yankees have a deep lineup, they also don’t have a Juan Soto waiting on the wings nor a Trea Turner-caliber bat to carry the load, following the exit of their superstar (as the Nats did). And you probably don’t want to be taking as a role model an organization that crumbled in the fashion that the Nationals did following that last-gasp 2019 championship.
Ultimately, it’s impossible to find an organization that pretty much checks all these boxes, forcing themselves to basically have no choice but to re-sign their superstar:
- In the middle of a contending window
- Said player is by far the most important player on the team coming off an all-time great year
- Financial flexibility to retain said player long-term
- Face of the franchise and perfect fit with the organization
Take a moment to picture this team, and more specifically this lineup without Aaron Judge. If you even can, it’s not the prettiest of pictures.
After Gerrit Cole, the Yankees can’t even bring up their shorter-term commitments to other players such as DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, and Giancarlo Stanton as roadblocks, because:
- They’re not enough to restrain one of the top three budgets in the sport from pursuing the retention of their biggest superstar
- All of those players are in one way or another either disappointing, massively underperforming, or not really part of the long-term plans of this ball club; that’s not even considering the Aaron Hickeses of the world
If New York ends up without Judge because another franchise came in with a gaudy offer that they weren’t willing to match, and regardless of what Cashman does elsewhere to fill that massive void, Yankees fans will look at this team’s payroll, and be fairly disgusted that the greatest franchise in the sport lost its superstar.
It’s virtually impossible to imagine a world without Aaron Judge in pinstripes. Considering all the reasons cited above, plus the perception at the very least that Judge will elect to stay with the Yankees if offered the contract he desires (and has earned), it’s incredibly difficult to imagine him with a different uniform come 2023.
The loss of Judge would represent an outlier occurrence to the Yankees’ franchise. It’d be something that’s never happened to the 27-time world champs. The Yanks usually take the superstar from smaller markets, they’ve never had to endure with the painful loss of a truly generational one during its prime — not in the same fashion as this one would be.
In baseball, anything can happen. But the very notion of Judge leaving the Bronx just should not sit well with anyone. There will be quite a few questions raised if that happens, to say the very least.