Assuming the Red Sox are brave enough to pitch to him (Gregg Giannotti has his doubts), Aaron Judge should, at some point this weekend, tie Roger Maris’ American League home run record, an eagerly anticipated milestone that has all of baseball buzzing (no small feat in the midst of football season). Judge is having an historic season by virtually every metric, leading his respective league in all three Triple Crown categories (batting average, home runs and RBI). The four-time All-Star has been especially potent this month, batting an absurd .475 with nine round-trippers in 59 September at-bats.
In saving us the suspense of an MVP race (last year’s winner, Shohei Ohtani, will have to settle for silver this time), the narrative focus has shifted to Judge’s impending free agency with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci estimating the Yankees cost themselves between $75 and $90 million by not locking their slugger up long term.
“[The Yankees] made an offer on the table, what $31.5 million [annually]? They’re paying Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole, going forward, $35 million a year. The Angels are paying Anthony Rendon $35 million a year,” Verducci said Thursday while appearing as a guest on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “It was a hometown discount. I get that. But with the numbers he’s put up this season and, most importantly, stayed healthy the whole year, that was the one knock the Yankees had on him, I’ve got to believe he’s getting close to seven for $40 [million].”
Judge broke off talks with the Yankees prior to Opening Day, declining a seven-year, $213.5-million extension that, in retrospect, seems laughable. Though Judge has proved his skeptics wrong in emphatic fashion, New York’s concerns, at the time, were warranted. Somewhat of a late bloomer (he didn’t become a big-league regular until his age-25 season), Judge is already in his 30s with a lengthy history of injuries exacerbated by his unusual 6’7,” 282-pound frame. Players that size typically don’t age well, though Judge would seem to be an exception, enjoying his best season at an age when most sluggers have plateaued.
While the Yankees erred in lowballing Judge this offseason, Verducci believes he’ll ultimately remain in pinstripes with Cashman paying whatever he needs to keep him in the Big Apple. “He sells more jerseys than anybody in baseball. People go to the ballpark to see him. He’s an everyday player. He’s the greatest Yankees home-run slugger since Mickey Mantle,” said Verducci, acknowledging the Mets and Judge’s hometown Giants as the Yankees’ biggest threats. “He’s a marketing dream for any team, but especially for the Yankees. It’s hard for me to believe that the Mets or the Giants are going to outbid the New York Yankees. But they will have to be the top bidder, I believe.”
On the strength of one of the greatest individual seasons in MLB history, there’s a distinct possibility Judge will command north of $40-million annually, a salary that would make him among the highest-paid players, not just in baseball, but in all of sports.