What we’re not talking about is how this could wind up helping the Yankees’ odds of re-signing him this winter. As things currently stand, Judge is the American League’s Triple Crown leader. He’s batting .316 with the aforementioned 60 home runs as well as 128 RBI.
So, about that seven-year, $213.5 million extension offered back on Opening Day? Not happening. It’s going to take a lot more to secure the home run-hitting services of one Aaron James Judge this offseason.
But let’s think about Judge’s free agency and the actual contenders to sign him. Forget the tired baseball politicking that spawned speculation of him signing with the rival Red Sox. On a recent Fox Sports broadcast, Ken Rosenthal speculated the Mets could be players too. That’s not happening for several reasons, but I digress.
It’s more likely that the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants will be Judge’s main suitors. Giants president Farhan Zaidi recently implied he’s looking to spend big this offseason. And the Dodgers basically print money at near-George Steinbrenner levels of excess.
And yet, do we really expect either team to outbid the Yankees for Judge? Los Angeles just committed $162 million to Freddie Freeman last winter and has another $265 million committed to Mookie Betts through 2032. San Francisco, meanwhile, only has $103 million committed to next year and could probably slash that. But even with Judge’s local connection and the much larger Oracle Park, how much can they realistically offer?
Look at it this way. Judge breaking Roger Maris’ record isn’t so much of a possibility now, but practically certain. Moreover, the Yankees have the third-highest payroll in baseball at $253 million and aren’t afraid to spend big money in free agency (at least on their terms).
That said, what if Judge’s historical season has the opposite effect once free agency starts and teams just don’t bother outbidding the Yankees?
It’s really not as unrealistic as it seems. We’ve already outlined what limits the Dodgers and Giants in their prospective bids for Judge. Even if we add the Seattle Mariners as a dark horse, it’s hard to envision them pulling off a Robinson Cano sequel and outspending New York again.
That leaves general manager Brian Cashman who, despite what #YankeesTwitter wants, is coming back on a new contract next year. And once he signs his new deal, he’s playing with house money as it pertains to Judge’s.
First, though Cashman and his analytics-focused philosophy are frustrating, he isn’t stupid. He knows that if he’s the man in charge this offseason, Judge’s price tag has skyrocketed. Perhaps higher than one his own home runs! That means even with the Yankees’ own money-printing machine, he’ll have to trim payroll.
This actually isn’t as hard as it seems. New York’s 2023 payroll currently stands at $150 million before arbitration. Find a way to move at least some of the $29.5 million left on Aaron Hicks’ contract, and that number shrinks. The same goes for Josh Donaldson and his $21 million expiring deal next year.
What’s more, who’s to say that Gleyber Torres doesn’t get traded before spring training? Even with his September renaissance, the Yankees have Anthony Volpe coming up and more infield depth than they know what to do with. Torres can easily push for $10 million next year, so that’s even more money potentially off the Yankees’ books.
Again, Cashman is a smart, shrewd general manager and has probably been planning for this since last year. He knows that deep down, Judge wants to stay with the Yankees. He’s even on camera saying “I want to play for the Yankees and be here for a long time,” and said he wanted to “be a Yankee for life” after last season.
Thus, who’s to say that the Giants and Dodgers and even Mariners aren’t looking at Judge’s performance now and wondering if they should even bother making an offer? None of these teams except Los Angeles have resources that can match the Yankees’. Unless Judge is willing to take a hometown discount from San Francisco, can anyone really outbid New York?
We’ll soon see, but one thing is certain. Even if this 60-home run season is just a one-off, Judge and his free agency have completely changed compared to Opening Day. His price tag is rising as such that any competition the Yankees might have faced in signing him could be basically gone now.
In which case, let’s hope neither Cashman nor the Yankees blow this and let him walk.
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