Aaron Judge
Wendell Cruz | USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ arbitration steel cage match with Aaron Judge is actually going to happen.

Even after the slugger and pending free agent delivered the walk-off blow in Thursday night’s thrilling win over the hated Astros. Even with Judge on pace to blast more home runs this year than Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. Even as the team sits 34 games over .500 and 12 games up in the American League East.

No, Brian Cashman, Randy Levine and Hal Steinbrenner still plan to hop on that zoom and do everything they can to not pay Judge an extra $4 million this season. Seventeen million bucks, and not a penny more. That $21 million their best player asked for is just a bridge too far.

It makes little sense at face. Yes, this hearing is supposed to be conducted based on what Judge did in 2021 and prior. This season does not count. But still. Why would the Yankees antagonize Judge further before he tests the market this winter? Or risk doing anything that alters the clubhouse culture that currently has them playing at a historic pace?

This could be nothing more than a sense of stubborn duty. The strategically cheap Steinbrenner may feel he owes it to the other 29 owners to take Judge to the mat and give no quarter to him (and his union). But even that does not add up. Certainly that sentiment likely exists. Are the Yankees going to screw themselves to strike a blow for everyone else?

The other logical explanation: The Yankees are operating with privileged information.

Maybe they have made the internal decision they will give Judge whatever it takes, and that will override any hurt feelings. They might as well commit to the bit because it has a clear expiration date. When the time comes, they will write a big check — the biggest one available — and Judge will take it without hesitation.

Or maybe the Yankees feel the ship has already sailed. Judge is playing hard and saying all the right things, but they feel he wants to go elsewhere. They believe he’s going to sign with the Giants or the Cubs or anyone who doesn’t play in the Bronx no matter what. If so, why give the guy a deal? Stand up for yourself and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts. And then go figure out how to get Juan Soto.

It seems unlikely the Yankees can have total confidence Judge will re-sign with them at this juncture. It only takes one team. And it seems improbable Judge has completely ruled out re-signing here. If he has, he’s a better actor than ballplayer. But those theories make as much sense as the Yankees still dragging him into an arbitration hearing.

James Kratch can be reached at james.kratch@xlmedia.com

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.