The Yankees went out of their way Friday to paint Aaron Judge and his camp as the unreasonable ones. That’s just the reality of the situation. They leaked the gist of their best offer to The New York Post, then general manager Brian Cashman laid out the specifics in a candid pre-Opening Day press conference.
The Yankees have a good argument. A long-term deal paying $30.5 million a year seems fair for an injury-prone slugger who is about to turn 30 and has never appeared in a World Series. Judge is a very good player, but he’s not Mike Trout. And by cleverly tying the offer to Alex Rodriguez’s megadeal from years ago, we’re reminded he isn’t A-Rod either.
That all said … the Yankees have to realize there is a good chance this PR blitz will backfire. Judge is scheduled to be a free agent this winter now. And what has been a rather civil process may quickly become an ugly impasse that mars this entire season.
Judge clearly thinks he’s worth a hell of a lot more than the Yankees do. Now the team that claims it wants him to stay is also trying to turn public opinion against him. That does not seem like a recipe for success. Which is why the Yankees need to put Judge on the market and look to trade him as soon as possible.
If money wasn’t an object for the Yankees, they would have paid Judge whatever it took to get this done now and moved on. But money clearly is an object; Hal Steinbrenner’s years of selective penny-pinching have made that clear.
That means two of the three possible outcomes for Judge in 2022 — he replicates his 2021 campaign or has an even better season — will leave the Yankees susceptible to being outbid on the open market (Steve Cohen and the Mets are already salivating).
And if Judge battles injuries again? Sure, his market will crater. But so too will the Yankees’ interest, and no one will win.
Cashman needs to hit the phones and find a National League team — San Francisco? San Diego? Los Angeles? — willing to play ball. The Yankees may not get 100 cents on the dollar, given Judge is in the final year of his deal. But the sooner a deal is made the more lead time an acquiring club has to potentially hammer out their own extension deal. The Yankees could wait until the trade deadline, but that is too big a risk. And no matter what, something in return is better than getting nothing.
An early-season Judge deal can yield a return that gives the Yankees a better chance to win the American League East and contend for a pennant. The Yankees can survive without his bat. They need more arms, and Judge can bring them in.
Judge hits a lot of home runs and sells a bunch of shirseys, and he’s been the face of this era of the team. But he’s never felt like an all-time Yankee, and it’s fair to wonder if he will ever get there given his age and injury history. If the Yankees made a good-faith effort to lock him in — and based on the offer they made, they did — and it wasn’t enough, they need to move to protect themselves. And that means trading Judge.