In what is becoming a truly historic season, Aaron Judge has joined Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Ralph Kiner and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only non-steroids-tainted players to at least twice hit 50 or more homers in a season. And barring a catastrophic injury, will likely break Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 that has stood since 1961.
And shortly after the season, Judge, who bet on himself this year and has already won, has a very good chance of winning his first Most Valuable Player award, especially if the voters decide he was much more valuable to the Yankees winning their division than Shohei Ohtani was to the Angels finishing fourth. And then Judge will embark on the hunt for the one dumb owner willing to blow the Yankees out of the water with a contract that will pay him the same industry high $36 million annual average salary as Mike Trout, for 8-10 more years at age 31.
To be perfectly frank, I’m not sure if there’s a team out there willing and able to pay Judge the seven-years/$213 million he already turned down from the Yankees back in April that, with a $30.5 annual average value, would have made him the highest paid position player in Yankee history. But for the sake of argument, let’s examine the most logical teams in terms of both money and the need for a genuine star.
Number one would be the Giants, 100 miles southeast of Linden, Calif., where Judge grew up. But the Giants are an aging team in sharp decline with no realistic aspirations of competing for the NL West title against the Dodgers, Padres and rising Diamondbacks in the near future. Yes, they need a star, and, yes, they have the money.
But under the direction of GM Farhan Zaidi they are also the foremost analytics-driven organization in baseball — and are they really willing to forsake the No. 1 tenet of analytics — eschewing expensive longterm contracts for players in the 30s?
And even if they were, would Judge really cosign himself to a losing team, with nowhere near the residual worldwide sponsorship and marketing financial opportunities that come with being a New York Yankee?
Another possibility is the Cubs, who also have a need for a star and have the financial flexibility but are also a long way from contending. Again, for a few more bucks, would Judge really want to go to the freakin’ Cubs?
You can forget about any of the usual-suspect big spenders, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox or Phillies. Steve Cohen would never try to poach one of the Yankees’ star players and with a payroll certain to approach $300 million next year (which he said last week was his limit), he has to first try to retain Jacob deGrom and then deal with a handful of key free agents, Edwin Diaz, Brandon Nimmo, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker, Seth Lugo and Adam Ottavino.
The Dodgers are also way over the luxury tax threshold and have to concentrate on re-signing free agents Trea Turner, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Turner.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have made it clear they are all-in on the Tampa Bay model after lowballing Xander Bogaerts last winter and falling way short of meeting Rafael Devers’ free agency preempt demands, and the Phillies tapped out last winter with $179 million of investments in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos last winter on top of their 13-year $330 million deal with Bryce Harper.
The Pinstripe Express
The Daily News sports editors handpick the week’s best Yankees stories from our award-winning columnists and beat writers. Delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.
So with Judge’s market problematic, what are the Yankees to do? Though he never publicly said what he was looking for, he evidently left the impression with the Yankees that he thought he should be paid equivalent to Trout — and for 8-10 years at that number.
After this monster season, the Yankees are surely going to have to up their offer, and further sweeten the deal by making him captain. But how much higher can they go when conceivably they may very well be bidding against themselves?
As one MLB exec summed up to me last week: “All you have to do is look around at all these 10-year contracts to players in their 30s — [Albert] Pujols [$254 million] from the Angels, [Miguel] Cabrera [$292 million] with the Tigers and even the Yankees’ own [$275 million] deal with A-Rod in 2007. None of them worked out. And now even Trout, who did his record [12 years/$430 million] deal when he was only 27, has been beset by injuries and will probably never again be close to the MVP player he was three years ago.”
The Yankees, of course, are fully aware of the history. And that’s why no matter what, they wind up paying to keep Judge and privately conceding it will very likely end up being the worst contract they ever did with a player.
We wish nothing but the best for Tony La Russa, who left the White Sox last week to undergo tests, reportedly for a heart issue, in Arizona. It has been an especially hard season for the 77-year-old La Russa, who has come under relentless criticism from the White Sox fan base over the team’s underachieving play. Plucking La Russa out of the Hall of Fame and 10-year retirement and bringing him back to manage in 2021 was a terrible idea to begin with by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf but now that it’s proven to be hazardous to La Russa’s health, not to mention his Hall of Fame legacy, it would seem this is the right time to end it. …
In signing their 21-year-old wunderkind outfielder Julio Rodriguez to a 12-year/$209.3M extension with options that could make it as much as $470M over 17 years, the Mariners sent a message to Seattle fans that they will no longer have to worry about losing their best players to free agency, as they did years ago with Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. But the question ringing out from both other clubs and the players union is: What was the hurry? While most everyone agrees Rodriguez is a power-and-speed, defensively elite super talent, in his first year in the majors he’s striking out four times as much as he’s walking, and you would think the Mariners might have waited at least another couple years to see how he matures as both a hitter and a person. A prime example is 22-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. who, one year into his 14-year/$340M contract, fractured his wrist in an offseason motorcycle accident that caused him to miss the first four months of this season, then got slammed with an 80-game suspension for PED use. As we said, what was the Mariners’ hurry? Which is exactly what other agents are saying. Why didn’t Rodriguez’s agent, Dan Lozano of MVP Sports Group, at least wait to see what Juan Soto, who already turned down a 15-year/$440M deal winds up getting in two years? Then again, if you’re 21 years old, with really no track record yet, how do you turn down a guaranteed $209.3M? …
It’s understandable if the emergence of Oswaldo Cabrera has got Gleyber Torres looking over his shoulder. Cabrera’s versatility has earned him an everyday spot in the lineup, and now the Yankees have promoted top prospect Oswald Peraza, who’d been having a standout year at Triple-A Scranton. Hard to imagine Torres — whose OBP has dropped below .300 for the first time in his career at the same time he’s heading to a career-high strikeout total — being on the Yankees next year. He’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter which could further diminish his trade value.