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Aaron Judge, and the best walk years by Yankees hitters

Aaron Judge is putting himself in good company.

Chicago Cubs v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

The last season before free agency is, of course, a huge one for players. They can parlay a stellar season into tens of millions of dollars, or be forced to settle for a one-year deal and forgo the generational security they’d sought. Aaron Judge’s performance this year, and the constant discussions of his future contract, bring to mind some other players in recent history who mashed and earned themselves big deals. Let’s look at the best platform seasons ever compiled by Yankees hitters.

Aaron Judge — 2022

This is subject to change if Judge’s performance plummets or he breaks his leg and misses the rest of the season (please, no), but so far, Judge’s bet on himself is set to pay off for him in an absolutely massive way. You’ve heard the stats — 25 home runs, a 196 wRC+, the career low strikeout rate. He wants to get paid as the best player in baseball, and if this keeps up that’s exactly what’s going to happen, age and injury history be damned.

DJ LeMahieu — 2020

In the pandemic-shortened season, LeMahieu made a dominant case for being the best pure hitter in baseball. Coming off a star turn in 2019, he just kept on hitting, winning the batting title with a whopping .364 average. His strikeout rate was below 10 percent, by far the lowest of his career. A high BABIP helped, but the 2.4 fWAR and 177 wRC+ he put up over 50 games (working around multiple stints with injuries) paced the Yankees offense. After settling for a two-year, $24 million contract to begin his New York career, the $90-million pact he signed in 2021 was well earned.

Robinson Canó — 2013

It’s hard to believe it was almost a decade ago, but Robbie earned himself his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners with another star performance in his last year in pinstripes. His 5.9 fWAR mark was actually a decline from his 2012 mark, but still ranked 13th among position players in MLB, and was sixth-best among all players in the American League. Middle infielders with that kind of production don’t come around very often.

Jorge Posada — 2007

2007 was overshadowed by the drama of Alex Rodriguez’s opt-out clause, but the long-time starting catcher was also setting himself up to potentially leave the team for more money. Posada’s season was the third-best of his career by fWAR, and his .338/.426/.543 line would have been impressive for any player, let alone a catcher. He turned down the Mets to return to the only team he’d known for four years and $52 million. That production certainly was well timed, as he was never close to the same with the bat again.

Alex Rodriguez — 2007

It wasn’t technically the end of his contract, but A-Rod’s famous opt-out came at the end of a season for the ages. Though his stats will forever be questioned because of his use of steroids, the numbers are undeniably eye-popping. He earned the MVP Award with a 9.6 fWAR, 175 wRC+, and 54 home runs, the second-best of his career. This was the last great peak of his career, so the option to opt out could barely have been better timed. He signed a fresh ten-year contract with the Yankees, but he was never quite this kind of player again.

Bernie Williams — 1998

In 1998, Williams became the first player to win a batting title, Gold Glove, and a World Series championship in the same year. Williams put up a 4.9 fWAR in that record-setting season for the Yankees, along with the second-best isolated power mark of his career (he hit 26 home runs, 30 doubles, and five triples). He parlayed that into a seven-year, $87.5 million contract, though Boston offered him even more.

Something to note — besides Canó, the Yankees ended up re-signing all of these players. Here’s hoping the trend keeps up for Judge.