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The case for Aaron Judge optimism

The Yankees appear to be in pole position for the AL MVP.

Houston Astros vs New York Yankees, 2022 American League Championship Series Set Number: X164211 TK1

There are two styles the Yankees employ when they’re interested in a real, impact free agent. They’ll sit down with the player and his reps and present a contract they think is fair, and if the player finds a better option somewhere else, he takes it. This was the approach way back when for Robinson Canó, and also the entire 2019 free agent class.

Or, the team targets a particular FA, and makes it clear that player is their priority and that they won’t be beaten on price. Think about the Gerrit Cole saga — it was obvious the Yankees wouldn't be outbid, to the point that they even gave Cole more guaranteed years than any competitor. If Cold had wanted a particular city or experience, that’s not something the Yankees could have matched, but they did everything they could to bring Cole in.

We’re a few days from the start of the Winter Meetings, and it sure looks like the club is taking that second tact in their pursuit of Aaron Judge. They made a new free agent offer almost as soon as they could, a shot across the bow of other bidders. It feels like Judge’s signing will come sometime during next week’s meetings, and the Yankees seem to enjoy the pole position.

Jon Heyman was the first of many to link Judge to a possible Dodgers deal, and LA reportedly offered a $214 million, high-AAV contract that was turned down. The Giants have gone on a full-court press, even engaging Golden State superstar Steph Curry to lure the AL MVP. That seems to be the market headed into December — the Cubs haven’t materialized as a possible bidder, and no “surprise” teams like the Rangers last year appear to have put up a bid either.

Once again, this is more similar to the Cole free agency than anything else. Coming into that winter, we knew that the clubs interested were the Yankees, Angels and Dodgers. There were no “surprise” teams seriously interested and the market stabilized quickly, which plays into the Yankees’ strategy of matching real offers anyway. All signs point to the Yankees being the favorite to retain the services of one of the game’s very best. I’m still preparing for them not to sign him, and thinking about that outcome a little like a strikeout.

You can have a really bad strikeout — anyone who watched Josh Donaldson in the second half of 2022 knows what I’m talking about. A hitter can go up and take three daddy hacks and walk right back to the dugout; maybe they get lucky on one of those hacks and drive a ball, but more often they won’t. Or you can just get beat, which happens. You can foul off a couple tough two-seamers inside, maybe be the victim of a bad call at the bottom of the zone or the pitcher drops a gross curveball on the outer third that you can’t do anything with. You tip your cap and move on.

The Yankees might strike out on Judge, but if they do, it sure feels like the second kind of strikeout. There is a number at which they walk away — if the Giants offer my simulated 10/$500MM contract or something stupid, I won’t blame the Yankees for moving on, as long as they make impact moves on the rest of the roster. But they seem determined to bring Judge home, and Judge seems just fine with that as well as long as the money’s there.

I understand why Yankee fans would be pessimistic about Judge’s future. Too often we’ve seen the club sit on their hands when the bidding gets too big or too lively. I won’t be convinced that Judge stays a Yankee until the press conference after signing, but until then, I’m going to choose to feel good that both sides want a deal, and barring some crazy financial risk, should be able to get one done.