The New York Yankees’ season is over, but another hugely important competition begins. The question now is whether Aaron Judge will return to the Yanks or sign as a free agent with one of Major League Baseball’s other free-spending teams?
Even Judge, who broke Roger Maris’ American League and Yankees’ single-season home run record by hitting 62 this season, says he has no clue.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Judge said in an interview Saturday night at Yankee Stadium as another playoff run came up short when the Yanks were swept by the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series with Sunday’s rain-delayed Game 4, 6-5 loss.
The Astros will return to the World Series for the fourth time in six years, this time against the surging National League champion Philadelphia Phillies, starting Friday night at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.
The Yankees will be left to ponder the future for the 13th offseason since they last won the World Series in 2009. With Judge on the market, this winter might be their most consequential. The San Francisco Giants top the list of competitors for No. 99. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets are also potential suitors.
Judge turned down a $213.5 million, seven-year offer prior to this season and that figure may seem paltry when all is said and done this offseason. He won’t become a free agent until the end of the World Series, so the Yankees still have a small window of exclusive negotiations with Judge’s agents at PSI Sports.
Judge’s goal was always to remain in New York where he’s played his first six-plus seasons.
“I’ve been clear about that since I first started wearing the pinstripes,” he said to the media in the wee hours of Monday morning. “We couldn’t get something done before spring training and now we’ll see what happens.”
Those conversations will start with a few comparable deals for the 30-year-old Judge:
In 2019, Bryce Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies, and Manny Machado a 10-year, $300 million contract with San Diego Padres. Because of the labor climate at the time, both players didn’t sign with their respective teams until spring training.
Mike Trout then signed an extension with the Los Angeles Angels for 12 years and $426.5 million, or roughly $35 million per year, the most yet for a position player.
This past offseason, the New York Mets inked Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million deal. That average annual salary of $43.33 million is the highest ever.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said prior to the playoffs that Judge “bet on himself, and it’s the all-time best bet the way he navigated the season.”
“There’s a pot of gold there,” he added. “It’s yet to be determined what the gold—how much it weighs—but it’s a pot of gold, no doubt about it. So good for him. It was already a big pot and, obviously, it’ll be bigger.”
Let the negotiations begin.
Barry Bonds made it clear near the end of Judge’s run to catch and surpass Maris that he hoped Judge would sign with the Giants, his former team.
“I hope he signs here,” Bonds told Sportico. “Can it happen? I don’t know. It depends on what the Yankee payroll is. But we would love to have him, I’ll tell you that.”
Judge grew up 90 minutes east of San Francisco in Linden, Calif., and as a youngster idolized Bonds, whom he watched set the single-season homer record of 73 in 2001 and finish with the career record of 762 in 2007.
Judge was pleased to hear Bonds’ sentiments about him playing for the Giants. The two have never met.
“Oh, man, he’s one of the greats right there,” Judge said without tipping his hand. “Good stuff, good stuff. We’ll see what happens.”
Judge was asked if he’d approach Bonds as an idol or peer.
“Well, definitely as an idol,” he said. “I’ve got respect for the guys that came before me and played this game before me and everything they have done. I definitely see it as approaching an idol, and I’ll pick his brain a little bit. Just any tips I can get on how he made this game look so easy.
“So, whenever I get a chance to meet him, I’ll definitely want to have a lengthy conversation, that’s for sure.”
Judge had had an epic and singular regular season with a slash line of .311/.425/.686, an OPS of 1.111 and OPS-plus of 211 (100 is the median). He led the Majors in all those categories except batting average (his .311 was good for fifth), while leading MLB with 133 runs scored, 131 RBIs, 391 total bases and the 62 homers.
He seemingly single-handedly carried the Yankees to 99 wins and the AL East title but ran out of gas during the postseason when he was 5-for-36 (.139) with 15 strikeouts and two homers. He grounded back to the mound to end Sunday’s game and the series.
Still, a future without Judge would be baffling for the Yankees. In their last eight home games, as he chased the record, the Yanks drew 408,552 total fans. A family of four averages a minimum of $350 to attend a Yankees’ game, according to Team Marketing Report, which means those games generated about $40 million in revenue, including club seats.
Judge earned a relatively modest $19 million this past season.
“He was incredible,” Yanks manager Aaron Boone said, describing Judge’s season to the media after the series ended. “Just an incredible season and [he’s] someone I’ve grown close with and just admire and respect. Hopefully we’ll see him in pinstripes for a long time. I don’t even want to think about the alternative right now.”
Teammate Nestor Cortes said Judge should be named Yankees’ captain if he returns next year. And star pitcher Gerrit Cole, who signed a nine-year, $324 million contract as a free agent with the Yankees prior to the 2020 season, said he can’t envision the team “going without our big motor, No. 99.”
“He’s been a tremendous leader with this organization. Everybody looks up to him,” Cole said in an interview. “Him not being here? Looking forward, it’s not something I enjoy thinking about.”