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The Yankees won the Aaron Judge saga with a premium price

The Yankees ended up paying over $140 million more than their Opening Day offer to Judge, but finally got their man and can start plotting the rest of the offseason.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees, at long last, secured the services of star outfielder and reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge for the next nine years. It definitely wasn’t easy, and it did look like he was going to be a San Francisco Giant at one point on Tuesday, but the team came through with an improved offer — although it wasn’t the highest — and the player’s desire to stay prevailed.

The Judge saga ends with the Yankees on top, having re-signed their man for $40 million per year for the next nine seasons. The $360 million in total value comfortably exceeded the initial $213.5 million commitment that the All-Star rejected before the start of the 2022 campaign. It was a wise bet on himself, and No. 99 has been fully rewarded after a record-setting season.

The Yankees had to fight not just Judge’s near-hometown Giants, as the San Diego Padres knocked on Judge’s door with a really competitive offer, too. They were rejected by Trea Turner despite a reported contract that was $42 million more than the Phillies’ winning offer, and once again, a superstar less to play elsewhere. Their $400 million bid for Judge went for naught.

What does securing Judge mean for the Yankees? Losing him would have put them in a really tough position to compete next year no matter who they brought in during the offseason. Without him, FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections had the Yankees pegged for 85 wins. They would have obviously made some positive additions that would have kicked that total upward, but none has the same kind of impact as No. 99. It’s that simple: Judge almost certainly guarantees contention.

When the rest of the offense was struggling in the second half, Judge was playing some of the best baseball of his career. The man hit 62 home runs and challenged for a Triple Crown. Do you know how incredibly rare that is these days? He slashed .311/.425/.686, stole 16 bases, and played excellent defense in right while providing commendable play in center field with New York in a pinch.

It would have been a completely different scenario if the Yanks entered the 2023 without Judge. They could have signed Carlos Rodón, Brandon Nimmo, and one of the star shortstops and we would still be wondering whether they had enough to be considered serious candidates to make a deep playoff run. (They should probably still go after at least Rodón anyway, but I digress.)

Financially, the difference between paying $213.5 million to $360 million definitely hurts the Yankees. They’re definitely ruing the decision to not offer him something closer to $250 million before the season to potentially avoiding this entirely. It’s not because they don’t have the money to stomach it — they absolutely do — but because it will likely be harder for them to convince themselves of pursuing other high-priced targets.

As a reminder, getting Judge back was only the first part of the equation: this is still the same team that got swept in the ALCS. With all due respect to the likes of Matt Carpenter and Miguel Castro, the only real difference at the moment is that Tommy Kahnle is back in the bullpen and Jameson Taillon is gone. There is still a lot of work to be done, and several big fish unsigned: Nimmo, Rodón, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogaerts, Kodai Senga, and more.

The Yankees still need to figure out what to do with Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Aaron Hicks. They still need to decide on Gleyber Torres’ future and what to do with the kids, namely Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Anthony Volpe.

They won’t tell you they are out on Nimmo and Rodón, but after spending $360 million on Judge, one would think they would shift their focus to the trade market and solve left field with someone like incumbent Andrew Benintendi and not the more expensive Nimmo.

For both the Padres and Giants, this means they could shift their attention to the shortstop market, where they are bidding against the Chicago Cubs, the Boston Red Sox, and potentially the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. These teams have ample funds to spend and it’s not unreasonable to see them pursuing Nimmo, Rodón, one of the top shortstops, or even star NPB pitcher Senga.

As for the Yankees, they get their star back to make another assault at the American League crown. Roster-wise, they can check off the right field position, and with Harrison Bader expected to man center field, there is only left field to solve.

There, they have Giancarlo Stanton and Cabrera, but they may not feel comfortable with the former as a regular field players and would probably prefer to have the latter in a super-utility role. Although Aaron Hicks is technically still around as well, it’s clear that he’s being shopped and that the Yankees have no interest in relying on him as a starter in 2023.

Retaining Judge was definitely a smart move, even if it was a costly one, without question. The Yankees wouldn’t be able to justify losing him to its own fanbase, and replacing his production would have been incredibly tough, if not impossible: a healthy Judge can easily return the Yanks’ investment in almost every way. And that’s to say nothing of his very meaningful off-field impact as well.