Aaron Judge and the Yankees are focused on winning the World Series (and deep down, hitting 62 or more home runs). But at some point, whether after a disappointing postseason defeat or a parade down the Canyon of Heroes, the moment both have waited months for will arrive.
Judge is going to be a free agent. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman have indicated they want to make him a Yankee for life, especially after this historic prove-it season. But will Judge want to stay? And can the Yankees hold off what could be a slew of serious suitors?
The Yankees are the favorites to re-sign Judge. But if they don’t? Here is a rundown of the teams that could make the biggest move of the offseason and land the slugger.
THE TOP CONTENDERS
Giants. The team everyone expects to be the Yankees’ stiffest competition. Judge is a northern California native — he grew up about two hours away from San Francisco in Linden — and he played in college at Fresno State. The Giants also have plenty of money to spend and have indicated they plan to make a major run at Judge. Oracle Park would not be as Judge-friendly as Yankee Stadium. But that may not mean much if the allure of “home” matters to Judge — and the money is right. Because there is a very real possibility the Yankees could get outbid given Steinbrenner’s recent run of strategic cheapness.
Mets. The Amazins’ interest, or lack thereof, is arguably the biggest X-factor of Judge’s free agency. There are very good reasons to argue the Mets will not be a serious suitor. There is a belief owner Steve Cohen would not want to stick it to the Steinbrenners in such a destructive, dramatic fashion. And while Cohen and the Mets have the biggest checkbook in baseball, he has made it sound like even he has a limit. Plus he has to worry about re-signing Jacob deGrom, Brandon Nimmo and a host of other key players this winter.
That said … Cohen likes to spend money and make splashes. And this would be the biggest splash of all. Especially if Cohen was to exploit an inefficiency in the system and offer Judge a deal similar to Max Scherzer’s. Say, four years and $220 million ($55 million per). Judge gets a historic payday, he gets a chance to hit the market again at age 35 and the Mets are protected against him declining on the back end of a long-term deal.
Dodgers. They do not make nearly as much sense as the Giants or Mets. But if Judge is willing to be an everyday center fielder, the money would likely be there in Los Angeles. Especially if Trea Turner goes elsewhere in free agency. Judge would get to move back to the west coast and be part of a superteam equipped to contend for the World Series almost indefinitely.
Cardinals. They were in the thick of the Juan Soto sweepstakes. You don’t try to trade for Soto if you do not intend to re-sign him. Could the money that would have been earmarked for him go to Judge instead?
Cubs. They have to be on the list because of their financial means. But it’s hard to imagine Judge signing up to join a team that is working fast to regain its status as a lovable loser.
Red Sox. Boston has the money as well. But after failing to find a way to keep Mookie Betts, why would they suddenly throw money at a player who is two years older and has an injury history? That said, Judge’s recent love tap for Red Sox fans has to at least get the Yankees thinking.
SLEEPERS AND SPENDERS
Nationals. The franchise is for sale and the belief is that process is well down the road. If a deep-pocketed new owner can strike a deal in the next few weeks, they might be inclined to swing for the fences right off the bat.
Padres. They’ve got Fernando Tatis Jr. They’ve got Soto. Why couldn’t they try to buy Judge (and a championship or two)? They can always trade Soto away in 2024 if things go really south. The Padres are another team that would be wise to consider making a short-term, high-money offer if interested.
Phillies. There has been no Judge-Phillies buzz to date. But any big market East Coast team has to at least be considered. And Bryce Harper’s contract is not terribly cumbersome if they want to take on another large deal.
Rangers. You can always count on them for some reckless spending. If Judge is focused on money, the Rangers could be an ATM for him like they were for Alex Rodriguez. Especially given they flopped this season after expecting to contend.