After a decisive ALDS Game 5 win against the Cleveland Guardians, the Yankees are headed back to the ALCS for a rematch with the Houston Astros. That’s the main focus for the Bronx Bombers right now. But still, the Aaron Judge free agency saga likely lingers in the background for general manager Brian Cashman.
One has to imagine Cashman will do what’s necessary to retain their homegrown star. It also seems unlikely that Judge would leave the Bronx and head across town to play for the Mets. However, after a Wild Card Round exit, lots of players heading into free agency, and plenty of money to spend, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Amazins at least throw their hat into the ring.
What makes Aaron Judge a “perfect” fit for the Mets, as David Ortiz recently said? Here are four reasons.
He has power the Mets need
Judge got plenty of attention throughout 2022, and for good reason. It’s not every year we see a player slug 60-plus homers and break the American League home run record. This was one of the most powerful individual performances the game has ever seen. However, it’s not like this onslaught of dingers just came out of nowhere.
The slugging outfielder has built part of his MLB reputation on hitting homers at a frequent rate. That started with hitting a then-record 52 dingers during his rookie season and continued from there. Judge didn’t get back over the 40-homer mark again until this past year, but he enters free agency with five seasons of 20-plus homers (three of 30-plus) since his first full campaign in 2017.
The Mets had one of baseball’s most productive offenses in 2022. That’s evidenced by their team wRC+ of 116, which was third in baseball. The one thing in which they lacked, though, was hitting home runs. New York slugged 171 as a team, which ranked 15th in the league.
Just three Mets hitters collected more than 20 dingers (Pete Alonso with 40, Francisco Lindor with 26, Eduardo Escobar with 20). New York showed an ability to score and win games without tons of homers, but that’s ultimately something that bit them in the backside in September and October.
Alonso is the Mets’ one true power threat in their lineup, and he could use some help. Judge would certainly fit the bill.
Judge is versatile on defense
Once the Mets finally found a general manager to hire in Billy Eppler last winter, he immediately hit the ground running with making acquisitions. What stands out is what the organization did right before the MLB lockout went into effect.
Over a five-day span after Thanksgiving, the Mets signed Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, and Max Scherzer. What initially stood out to me regarding the position player acquisitions was that they all had experience playing multiple positions in the big leagues. None of them really cared where they were plugged in on the diamond, either.
Athleticism and defensive versatility were clearly things Eppler wanted to achieve with his roster additions at that time. Bringing in someone like Aaron Judge would fit right into that likely desire, too.
While Judge is entering his age-31 season, he has experience playing two different outfield positions. Just this past regular season, he spent 632.2 innings in center field and 491.2 innings in right field.
Elite quality of contact
Even with the lack of homers, the Mets’ offense was quite productive in several ways. One way it wasn’t too productive was in the quality of contact department.
While their collective 16.8% soft-hit rate wasn’t terrible, their 28.6% hard-hit rate was the fifth-worst mark in baseball. MLB’s average hard-hit rate in 2022 was 30.3%. Among Mets hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, only two who are still on the roster finished with a hard-hit rate above that number. Once again, that’s Alonso (33.9%) and Lindor (31.5%).
J.D. Davis, who now plays for the San Francisco Giants, actually led the way at 35.0%. Brandon Nimmo, who will be a free agent, was the only other Mets hitter at or above 30.0%.
As we’ve all come to know and love, Aaron Judge is a Statcast and exit velocity savant. For his career, he’s produced a 9.9% soft-hit rate and a 47.8% hard-hit rate. In 2022, Judge posted a career-best 7.5% soft-hit rate and paired it with a 48.0% hard-hit rate. Unsurprisingly, his 95.9 mph average exit velocity is among the league’s elite.
Judge knows how to finish
The past two years have been tough on the Mets. No MLB team has spent more time in first place since 2021 than New York. Despite that, they have no division titles to show for it.
The 2021 season was a pretty clear tailspin after the All-Star break. Prior to the midsummer classic, the Mets owned a 48-40 record before posting a 29-45 second-half performance. Many will say they collapsed again in 2022, but it’s not quite that stark. New York posted a .624 winning percentage in the first half (58-35) followed by a .623 winning percentage after the All-Star Game (43-26).
It was obviously their 18-13 record over the final 31 games that did the Mets in. Especially when they had the softest remaining schedule from September 1st on.
Whether this is a real thing for the Mets or not doesn’t matter. Finishing strong and not giving away a division (if they’re leading it) will be a storyline until they prove otherwise. It’d help to have another player on the squad that has historically finished the regular season strong.
Guess what? That’s what Judge has done with the Yankees. He’s hit 83 of his 220 career homers (about 38%) in August and September. He also boasts a .936 OPS and 152 wRC+ in August, as well as a 1.011 OPS and 170 wRC+ in September/October.
Once again, is Judge heading to the Mets a likely scenario? No, it’s not. However, it’s easy to see why New York would at least have interest in doing its due diligence on the slugger if he indeed reaches free agency.