After months of nail-biting and conjecture, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge re-signed with the Bronx Bombers on Dec. 7 for an astronomical rate of $360 million over nine years. If the number seems out of whack for a guy who whacks a baseball for a living, consider that the professional sports industry has lucked into a highly lucrative era, marked by the proliferation of gambling sites and the ongoing international embrace of American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey teams and stars. The Yankees can easily afford it.
Yankee fans all but demanded the move. Judge was baseball’s most glittering player in 2022. He hit 62 home runs, an American League and Yankees record, and became the face of New York sports. He managed to remain popular with fans and media and maintain squeaky-clean reputation off the field at a time when image is everything.
From now on, local historians will speak about the Yankees legends: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and ... Aaron Judge. All rise!
The Yankees and their fan base can exhale after a period of constant worry that their golden boy might bolt for a better offer from the San Francisco Giants, Judge’s hometown team, or the San Diego Padres.
The Yankees would have looked terrible if Judge had slipped away. The crosstown New York Mets have become the darlings of the town’s media mavens. The Mets have spent large sums – obtaining Justin star Houston pitcher Justin Verlander this week – and succeeded in shifting the baseball buzz from the Bronx to Queens.
So, the obvious question is: Which side blinked first?
I’d say Judge did.
For better or worse, WFAN immediately reported that Judge turned down higher offers elsewhere. This bulletin seems plausible because the suddenly mediocre Giants were poised to swoop in and hijack Major League Baseball’s most coveted free agent in this off-season. Judge chose the Yankees! He wanted to remain here! He loves playing in the Bronx and welcomes the big-city pressure that goes with the turf.
Sure, it sounds kooky to suggest that Judge somehow miscalculated when he will be receiving a salary of $40 million a year, plus the commercial endorsements that come to a star athlete in the media capital of the world.
But I suspect that his bottom-line agents would have been happier if he had decided to take the money and run.
A Game of Chicken
It appears that the Yankees “won” this big-stakes game of chicken despite the gargantuan price tag.
Judge may wind up looking UNDERPAID before too long. Next year, Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels’ marvelous slugger-pitcher, is a good bet to top what Judge got when Ohtani becomes a free agent.
Any team that failed to acquire Judge will surely bid intensely to obtain Ohtani, who has emerged as a fearsome slugger and a top-flight pitcher. Not since Babe Ruth, more than a century ago, has a Major League player accomplished this freak-of-nature feat.
Other free agents, notably the now ex-Met pitching master Jacob deGrom, have also received hefty deals, too, this off-season. Of course, the Yankees could have signed Judge before the start of last season and saved themselves lots of money and headaches.
What Will it All Mean?
The question now becomes more clear-cut: Will the Yankees win the World Series in 2023? Will the Judge move make them favorites to unseat the hated, rival Houston Astros? Probably not.
The Yankees have not won the championship since 2009, way back when hall of famers Jeter and Rivera roamed the baseball earth. The team has failed to develop young stars besides Judge and fizzled in many of its free agent signings. (Gerrit Cole is a reliable, hard-working starting pitcher but he has yet to emerge as the kind of staff ace that the franchise and its fans had envisioned.)
This is the wrong day to throw shade on the Judge deal but ... the fact remains that his huge salary will make it more difficult for the Yankees to sign other players and fill holes on the roster. Judge will simply account for so much money that the team has less to spend on other players.
The Judge decision leaves glaring problems at shortstop and on the mound. Perhaps the highly regarded Yankees minor league players will now step up and become overnight sensations as Jeter did in 1996.
The Astros have exhibited a knack for getting their young players major-league ready. Last season Astros phenom shortstop Jeremy Pena helped Houston win the World Series with his poise and clutch hitting. Can the Yankees soon boast a player as accomplished as Pena?
These are head scratchers for another day, though. It’s unseemly to carp about such matters on a day when Yankee fans are rejoicing at the prospect of retaining their favorite player.
Today, the mantra is: ALL RISE!