The Yankees had to re-sign Aaron Judge. They had no choice. As an organization, they backed themselves into this position by not extending him between 2017 and 2021 and by not giving him what he was looking for prior to Opening Day 2022, which was certainly not a nine-year, $360 million deal. (Though their pre-Opening Day 2022 offer was extremely fair.) And then the perfect storm of events for Judge took place leading to him getting the highest average annual salary of any position player in history and a deal that makes him a Yankee through his age 39 season.
Judge had an all-time offensive season, carried the Yankees for six months, broke the American League home run record and won AL MVP. To support his free-agent case, the Yankees were embarrassed in the ALCS by the Astros and his hometown Giants followed up a 107-win season with 81 wins, losing the AL West by 30 games. Then within the last week, whatever backup plan the Yankees had if Judge left was ruined when Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Trea Turner all came off the board. Turner signing before Judge only helped Judge as the new Phillie’s 11-year deal meant the eight-year offer out to Judge wasn’t going to get it done. The elite free-agent options were disappearing, and the Yankees had only one choice: finally give Judge what he wants, which was way, way, way more than what he wanted in early April.
The Yankees’ nonsensical “no extension” policy cost them hundreds of millions of dollars with Judge. Not that I care. No Yankees fan should care. Why should anyone other than the Steinbrenners care about their finances? (Finances they inherited from their father from a franchise they inherited from their father, a franchise their father didn’t want them to run.) If Judge got 15 years and $1.5 billion from the Yankees, only two groups of people should care: the Judges and the Steinbrenners. In a salary cap-less league, the money doesn’t matter. The years don’t matter. Having the best possible roster in the given season it all that matters.
Somehow along the way, baseball owners fooled the public into thinking luxury-tax penalties would sink franchises. There’s no market smaller than San Diego and in the last four years, the Padres gave $340 million to Fernando Tatis, $300 million to Manny Machado, $100 million to Jose Musgrove, traded for Yu Darvish’s $21 million average annual salary, tried to give Turner $342 million this week, tried to give Judge $400 million this week and finally were able to sign Xander Bogaerts for $280 million. If the Padres of all teams can spend the way they do, it’s disturbing to think what the Yankees could truly afford to spend compared to what they actually spend.
The Steinbrenners knew they had to keep Judge, not because it would help them win a championship, but because it would help them financially. Since Game 4 of the ALCS, the Yankees have sent countless emails for 2023 ticket offers, using Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu as the images in these emails. I like Stanton and love LeMahieu, but those two aren’t “putting fannies in the seats” like George Steinbrenner used to say. Hal Steinbrenner can act like not winning the World Series for a 13th straight year bothers him and keeps him up at night, but it’s all for show. To Hal, the Yankees had a successful season. They made his family hundreds of millions of dollars, and reaching the postseason was just icing on the cake. Getting five home playoff games (and a sixth when they screwed over everyone for Game 5 of the ALDS) was the cherry on top.
Judge alone won’t help the Yankees overcome the Astros and win the World Series. Steinbrenner said he told Judge the Yankees would be able to re-sign him and more this offseason. So far the Yankees gave Anthony Rizzo a new contract and brought back Tommy Kahnle. The four-win ALCS gap hasn’t been closed. If it has moved, if anything, it’s moved more in the Astros’ favor.
It doesn’t matter that Verlander left the Astros for the Mets. The Astros still boast Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr. and Christian Javier in their rotation, and were able to win the AL in 2021 without Verlander. The Astros can just plug his rotation spot with either Luis Garcia or Jose Urquidy, neither of which made the Astros’ postseason rotation. (Both made 28 starts in 2022 with Garcia pitching to a 3.72 ERA and Urquidy a 3.94 ERA.) The Astros are also returning their World Series-winning offense in addition to Jose Abreu (who they recently gave a three-year deal too).
It feels like the Yankees are going to re-sign Andrew Benintendi, which would be nice since it would put an end to any idea Aaron Hicks could be a Yankee in 2023, but all it does is bring back another piece from a Yankees team that wasn’t good enough. A piece that missed the final month of the season and the postseason due to a second hamate surgery, a surgery that is known to sap power for some time after.
The best thing the Yankees have going for them is that the rest of the AL seems to be content with doing nothing this offseason. The Red Sox let Bogaerts leave. The Rays gave Zach Eflin the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history. The Blue Jays traded away Teoscar Hernandez. The White Sox’ big splash has been signing Mike Clevinger. I guess the Rangers made a statement by signing deGrom, but they then canceled that out by signing Andrew Heaney. Turner stayed in the NL. Bogaerts went to the NL. Verlander went to the NL. Wilson Contreras stayed in the NL. Mitch Haniger went to the NL.
It’s helpful nearly all of the free-agent talent has gone to the NL over the AL, but it doesn’t make me feel better about the Yankees’ offseason, which is shaping up to be returning nearly the same exact roster and core that for a fifth straight season just proved to not be good enough.
I’m not excited the Yankees re-signed Judge. I’m relieved. No one should be celebrating the team that makes more money than any other team being able to retain their own homegrown free agent. Eating money to move Aaron Hicks or Josh Donaldson would get me excited. Moving on from Isiah Kiner-Falefa? Signing Carlos Rodon? Trading for Bryan Reynolds? Giving an everyday spot to Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza out of spring training? Now we’re talking. That would get me excited. Those are moves that would begin to close the gap that has grown progressively wider since the 2017 ALCS.
The Winter Meetings are over, but the offseason has really just begun. There’s just over two months until pitchers and catchers report for the the Steinbrenners to make good on their promise to Judge that they could sign him and more this offseason. Having two months to make good on that promise doesn’t mean I think it will actually happen, just that they have two months to make it happen. Right now, they’re the same old Yankees: good enough to make the postseason, but not good enough to win it. For Yankees fans, it’s not good enough. It’s about time it isn’t for the Steinbrenners either.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!