Right now, the most pressing question among New York sports fans is:
Should the Yankees re-sign Aaron Judge?
No disrespect meant to Yankee haters or fans of the Mets and the winter sports teams in town, mind you. But all matters of Judge tower over the field, and not only because he is 6-7 and weighs 280 pounds.
The Yankees’ management has a Judge-size conundrum here.
Judge’s credentials are sterling. He hit 62 home runs this season, breaking Roger Maris’ team record by one and setting a new mark in American League annals to boot.
Plus, Judge is widely recognized as a fan favorite for his stoicism and team-first dedication. In the clubhouse, he is a popular team leader and the face of the franchise (whatever that means).
Diehard Yankees fans can’t easily contemplate the future of the team without No. 99. One of Judge’s subtlest accomplishments has been leading the Yankees into a post-Derek Jeter generation. He has emerged as the most admirable Yankee of the last decade.
What If ...
But what if the Yankees decided not to re-sign Judge – at any price –and let him move on to, say, the San Francisco Giants (probably the team most salivating for Judge). Or the unthinkable scenario, in which the hated, desperate Boston Red Sox, coming off a desultory 2022 season and anxious for a reboot in 2023, or the ultra-ambitious, hated and feared and deep-pocketed Mets swoop in.
Before you curse my good name for seeming to root for Judge’s exile on Main Street, hear me out.
The Yankees would free up upwards of $40 million a year to spend on free agents and, presumably, go a long way toward plugging glaring holes at shortstop and catcher and, particularly, in the starting rotation as well as the bullpen.
Sure, the Yankees and their fans would miss Judge’s productivity and quiet charisma – and he might just be the best fielding right fielder in the game as well. But Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 home runs a few years ago and remains a scary hitter when he is hot, can do his part to fill the void.
The Yankees’ embarrassing sweep at the hands of the world champion Houston Astros revealed a lot about the team’s weaknesses.
In a post-Judge era, maybe the team would smartly assemble a better playoff-ready lineup. For now, the Yankees have a mentality of home run or bust, which helps maintain Bleacher Creatures & Co.’s interest over 162 games (and generate hefty revenues from the Yes network for the Steinbrenner family ownership).
But that kind of limited strategy also inevitably ensures that the Bronx Bombers will come up short in the playoffs, when the wind starts to blow out, the opponents’ relief pitching gets sharper and the baseballs that flew over the fence in May now die on the warning track.
The Yankees have traveled down this road before. After the 1981 season, in which the Yanks played in their fourth World Series in six years, the management had to decide whether or not to re-sign Reggie Jackson. Jackson had been a highly productive outfielder and he was, after all, Mr. October! But he was coming off a sub-par year. Plus, he was in his mid-30s, implying that he might continue to deteriorate in a pre-steroids baseball era.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner foolishly let Jackson slip away to the California Angels, where he was rejuvenated the following season. The Yankees, meanwhile, answered with free agent speedster Dave Collins but the team entered a downward spiral and failed to make the playoffs again until 1995, marking the longest drought in franchise history. (Adding insult to injury, the crosstown Mets proceeded to add the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Dwight Gooden, Gary Carter and Ron Darling and they became THE baseball team in town.)
A Giant Headache
It’s likely that the Red Sox and the Mets – the Yanks’ biggest rivals – will try to exploit the Yankees’ discomfort. Expect to see stories planted in the tabloids and on WFAN, shrieking that both teams are prepared to sign Judge despite the gargantuan price tag.
But these savvy rivals mostly want to drive up the price for Judge, causing the Yankees to overpay for him. Since the Yankees would be forced to spend so steeply for Judge, that would mean the franchise could not afford to shell out more money on other much-needed star players this winter.
The San Francisco Giants, however, really do want to add Judge. Talk about a desperate team. The Giants just completed a dreadful season and fell far behind, both in terms of the National League West standings and the general fans’ chatter about relevant baseball teams, the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. In recent times, the Dodgers added Mookie Betts and the Padres acquired Juan Soto, two of the biggest names in the sport. Now it may be the Giants’ turn to pounce.
The Giants risk crumbling into irrelevancy in 2023. They need to bring on a player of Judge’s stature to re-join the baseball conversation. And as the media will remind us again and again, Judge hails from the Bay Area and might want very much to return home.
That Said ...
That said, I expect the Yankees to re-sign Judge at any price. They need him in the lineup. They need him in their marketing. They need him to keep up with the billionaire Steve Cohen-led Mets.
The Yankees really can’t afford to let Aaron Judge get away.
Did I say, at any price?