aaron judge yankees
Jayne Kamin-Oncea | USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge and his upcoming free agency have been the hot topic around the Yankees all year long.

It all started when Judge bet on himself, turned down an extension on Opening Day and launched an MVP season. He leads the majors with 55 home runs and 118 RBI. He’s not just going to be paid, but paid very very well.

The question is, by which team? The Yankees certainly aren’t out of the running, but Judge will command more than the $213.5 million the Yankees offered. And team president Randy Levine running his mouth about “reality” on a podcast with Post baseball columnists Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman doesn’t help the cause either.

Meanwhile, the Giants seem ready to be aggressive in the market this winter. Judge is from northern California and could be one of their targets. Cut to the biggest “decision” New Yorkers have cared about since LeBron James’ free agency in 2010.

This puts Yankees general manager Brian Cashman in a tough position. The notoriously shrewd general manager has never lost a man he couldn’t lose — case in point, Robinson Cano. But it’s hard to argue Judge is someone Cashman can afford to lose. So if he does, will it be because owner Hal Steinbrenner was too cheap? Or because Cashman knows things we don’t?

Jasson Dominguez is the real deal. Everyone associated with the Yankees has been excited about Dominguez since the team signed him at 16-years-old in 2019. The switch-hitting outfielder is now 19 and batting .272 with 12 home runs, 52 RBI, and 35 steals across two levels of A-ball this year. Dominguez has also managed a solid .814 OPS despite a high strikeout rate.

Dominguez was nicknamed “The Martian” because his talent was considered out of this world. He’s still a couple of years away but if the talent is real, perhaps Cashman thinks losing Judge and waiting things out on Dominguez is worth it.

Paging Spencer Jones. Keeping with the youth theme, we should also note that Cashman recently drafted outfielder Spencer Jones out of Vanderbilt. Like Aaron Judge, Jones is 6’7″ and known for having a powerful bat. He’s already batting .341 with four home runs and 11 RBI in 23 minor league games, and is already drawing comparisons to, you guessed it, Judge.

Jones was drafted No. 25t overall in June and seems he could quickly rise through the minor league ranks once he learns how to hit breaking pitches. Much like Dominguez, perhaps Cashman thinks it’s worth more to lose Judge and wait on Jones.

An inside track on Juan Soto. The Yankees were in the Juan Soto trade sweepstakes this summer to some extent, eventually losing out to the Padres. What’s notable is that Soto still hasn’t signed an extension with his new team. He’s making a shade over $17 million this year, has two years of arbitration left, and turns 24 in October.

This is quite the dilemma for Yankees fans, not to mention Cashman. Do you let Judge go and lose his bat for two seasons knowing Soto is eventually coming? He’s a right fielder and his lefty bat is perfect for Yankee Stadium. But he’ll also command a record-setting deal, whereas Judge will not despite a potentially historic season. Either way, if Judge leaves, #YankeesTwitter will almost certainly start a Soto countdown.

2022 is a mirage. The Yankees love their analytics to an absolute fault. Despite that, we can all look at Judge’s numbers and safely assume this isn’t his new normal for the rest of his career. He’ll hit for a strong average with maybe 30-40 home runs a year, more than enough to earn him a lucrative deal.

Even the Yankees’ analytics team has to know this and Cashman will definitely factor the numbers into negotiations. The sad part is we can’t blame him. Judge turns 31 in April and has enough of an injury history that he shouldn’t be asking for Mike Trout money.

Hidden backstage drama. In the public eye, Judge is the unquestioned star of the New York Yankees. The best team leader since Derek Jeter. It’s not a matter of if he re-signs in New York, but when. We’ve outlined realistic and logical reasons above, but what if he leaves for, well, non-baseball reasons?

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t to say the Judge we all know and love is a facade. But what if it is? Maybe he signs with the Giants and The Athletic uncovers he knowingly overachieved in 2022 so he could command a contract the Yankees wouldn’t give him. Perhaps his lifelong dream has been to play for the Giants and he kept that to himself all these years.

The baseball season is still in full swing, but Judge and his impending free agency will sneak up on everyone before long. Sooner or later, the decision will be made and the full story will be told.

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Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.