You know the story: Aaron Judge bet on himself by turning down a long-term deal from the New York Yankees and then authored a historic 62-home run season that lined him up for what will likely be one of the largest contracts in baseball history.
It’s the stuff legends are made of, and now Judge’s fate belongs solely to him. The 30-year-old free agent can choose where he wants to play the rest of his career.
As Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said at the GM meetings in Las Vegas recently, “He’s earned the right to be a free agent, so he’ll dictate the dance steps.”
Detractors will say that Judge carries some risk because nobody knows if he’ll be able to continue his elite offensive production into his mid-30s. In the immediate future, though, Judge will drastically transform any organization he joins.
The reality is some clubs can afford to dream a little more than others. Is Judge likely to don the yellow and white of the Pittsburgh Pirates or ply his trade at American Family Field for the Milwaukee Brewers? Probably not.
But he’s still got a number of factors — and teams — to consider. Here are some legitimate potential landing spots for the off-season’s No. 1 free agent.
New York Yankees
Judge grew up in the Yankees organization and thrived at times under the bright lights of October baseball in the Bronx. He knows exactly what to expect in New York and has adroitly handled the immense pressure that comes with wearing the pinstripes. Should he re-up, Judge would be able to build on his Yankees legacy and etch his name alongside the franchise’s legends.
But the $300-million-plus question that could potentially alter the entire American League East is what if Judge leaves the Yankees? There’s a convincing argument to be made that the club wouldn’t have won the division in 2022 without his epic contributions. There were points during the campaign where he seemed to be New York’s only productive hitter. He carried the team. Do the Yankees want to risk a future without Aaron Judge?
The Giants have been rumoured for months to be an interested suitor for Judge, and the hot stove was further stoked in late October when NJ.com reported the club is “prepared to spend whatever it takes” to land the slugger. “Judge is at the top of the Giants’ list and they won’t be underbid,” said an anonymous source with knowledge of the team’s thinking. “If they miss out, it won’t be because of money.”
Judge to the Giants makes sense on a couple fronts. Firstly, he was born and raised in Linden, a small town in Northern California that’s 150 kilometres from San Francisco. Judge’s parents and in-laws still live there, according to NJ.com, and that could prove appealing. Secondly, the Giants — who finished third in the NL West with an 81-81 record — are sorely in need of an offensive superstar and have positioned themselves well to acquire one. The club’s salary commitments will fall drastically over the next few seasons, increasing the possibility of a massive signing.
Like the Giants, the Cubs have serious payroll flexibility moving forward, helped by the expiration of Jason Heyward’s eight-year, $184-million contract following the 2023 season. Chicago posted a dismal 74-88 record in 2022 and lacks both star power and a face-of-the-franchise-type player. Judge would check those boxes nicely, but the caveat is that the club is likely not ready to contend.
So, would Judge, who has played in a post-season game in each of the past six years, consider taking a step back from contention during the prime of his career?
The Dodgers seem to be mentioned whenever a big star hits the market. Sure, the purpose of that on some occasions could be to drive up the buying price for rivals, but who knows?
It’s not like president Andrew Friedman is hesitant to make big moves. Just imagine a lineup featuring Judge, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. That’s as intimidating a trio as baseball has seen in recent memory.
The Mets stealing Judge away from their crosstown rivals would be the ultimate power move by owner Steve Cohen. It would hit the Big Apple like an earthquake and the aftereffects would result in ratcheted up pressure for the Yankees to respond in some way.
The move would create an interesting and potentially difficult dynamic for Judge, though, as he’d be giving the middle finger to his former club in the same city he’d continue the rest of his career. Would he consider that?
The historic Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is slumbering at the moment but would certainly reawaken should Boston lure Judge in a reverse Curse of the Bambino. The Sox have the finances to do so, especially if free-agent shortstop Xander Bogaerts signs elsewhere.
The club finished last in the AL East, a division that is set to grow even stronger in 2023 as the upstart Baltimore Orioles continue to progress. That could force Red Sox president Chaim Bloom to push for a big splash. Who better than Judge to create waves?