Before we take yet another look at Aaron Judge and his upcoming free agency bonanza, I’d like to briefly revisit another Yankees free agency story.
After the 2010 season, the Yankees wanted to sign Cliff Lee. He’d just posted a 3.18 ERA for the Mariners and Rangers. The year before, pitching for the Phillies, he beat the Yankees twice in the World Series. Given the Yankees’ spending power, everyone thus expected Lee to end up in pinstripes.
The rest of the story still stings some Yankees fans. Though Texas and New York were favored to sign Lee, his agent had inside information. The big lefty wanted to go back to Philadelphia and there were soon rumors of a “mystery team” that entered negotiations. The term is now commonplace in every sport’s open market season.
That’s the one thing we’ve never quite discussed with Judge and his own free agency. Sure, the Dodgers and Giants will be competition, but even they have some limitations. At least one mystery team has to show up to keep things interesting, right?
Enter the Rangers, no strangers to big spending at all. They spent over $500 million in free agency last year. Texas also just hired Bruce Bochy as their new manager, the same Bochy who won three World Series with Judge’s childhood favorite Giants.
Thus, let’s look at Judge’s free agency as if the Dodgers and Giants have bowed out. Only the Rangers remain, and the bidding is getting intense. Does this hurt the Yankees or, rather, only help them?
Pros. The good thing about the Rangers trying to sign Judge is that when push comes to shove, it’s still advantage Yankees. They just won 99 games and if Judge re-signs, they’re in a good position to run it back. Texas, by comparison, spent the collective net worth of a small handful of even smaller countries in free agency last year and only won 68 games.
Moreover, as much as the Yankees have underachieved since 2009, they aren’t a chaotic organization. Nor are the Rangers, but former president of baseball operations Jon Daniels was recently let go after almost 20 years on the job. Chris Young has experience as an MLB league executive, but this is his first job running a team. Hiring Bochy was a bold move, but boom-or-bust because regardless of adding Judge, building a winning team is hard.
Cons. On the other hand, what if the Rangers’ assumed weaknesses are, in fact, the opposite? Texas still ranked 12th in MLB in runs scored and eighth in home runs. Not bad for a 68 win team that’s still building its pitching staff, all while striking out too much and walking too little.
Marcus Semien and Corey Seager are great foundational bats. Adolis Garcia also had 27 home runs with 101 RBI, so Aaron Judge would have plenty of protection in the lineup.
So why would Judge leave the mighty Yankees to join the lowly Rangers? Well, look at the Bochy hiring as a mystery team’s mystery weapon. Texas struggling to 68 wins last year was more indicative of Chris Woodward’s ineptitude and he was fired midseason. Bochy is a future Hall of Famer and his ties to the Giants are just a happy coincidence.
Simply put, don’t sleep on Texas making a ten-gallon hat-sized offer to Judge.
Verdict. There’s clearly a lot to digest here. First, the Rangers aren’t doing a bad job of trying to build a winner. They play in the AL West and the Astros’ pitching is so elite that trying to outslug them is a sound strategy. Semien, Seager, and Garcia are a strong lineup core while the pitching develops and Judge makes them stronger. Bochy was also an excellent hire despite his being 67-years-old and three years out of the game.
Even so, Judge will command well north of $300 million and it’s hard to see Texas adding that big of a deal to the books. Judge is unlikely to want a short-term contract either. He’s already 30 and turned down the Yankees’ seven-year offer on Opening Day. The man wants more years and more money, and he’ll get it after hitting 62 home runs.
Thus, even if the Rangers emerge as a serious mystery team, it’s hard to envision them outbidding the rest of the field. The Dodgers and Giants will certainly make competitive offers, but it’s still hard to imagine Judge leaving New York and the Brian Cashman Analytics Marathon.
More likely, the Yankees keep their man by adding an extra year and plenty of the almighty dollar.
Prediction. Judge re-signs with the Yankees for nine years, $329 million.