At some point in the next four months, reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge will sign a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I don't know when it will happen -- it could happen as soon as the Winter Meetings next week or as late as spring training (like Bryce Harper four years ago) -- but it'll happen. I assure you Judge will not be unemployed when Opening Day arrives March 30.
In spring training Judge rejected a seven-year extension worth $213.5 million that was very reasonable at the time but not so much now, after he hit an American League record 62 home runs and fell only five batting average points shy of a Triple Crown in 2022. The New York Yankees are, of course, trying to retain their franchise player; owner Hal Steinbrenner recently met face-to-face with Judge to convey how much he wants him to stay, and also to explain the team's plans moving forward.
"I just want him to know how I felt. In case there was any lack of clarity or ambiguity," Steinbrenner told NJ.com in November. "We have plenty of ability to -- and Aaron and I talked about this -- to make this happen and still have money to make other things happen ... My budget for Judge is going to be what I feel we can do. It's not limitless, obviously. But am I going to make moves before we're able to -- in my opinion, we're going to be able to sign Aaron. That's not going to stop me from signing other people."
The Yankees have already re-signed Anthony Rizzo, one of Judge's closest confidants on the team, though signing a player's best buddies doesn't automatically mean you'll land the player (remember when the White Sox signed Yonder Alonso in a failed attempt to woo his brother-in-law, Manny Machado?). The San Francisco Giants, Judge's hometown-ish team, have money to spend and are making a strong push to sign him. Giants ownership reportedly craves a star and they brought Judge in for a meet-and-greet last week. They got Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry involved and Joc Pederson is doing his part too.
As far as we know the Yankees and Giants are the two main suitors for Judge, though I wouldn't rule out the Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams (Chicago Cubs? New York Mets?) getting involved before it's all said and done. My hunch -- and I emphasize this is just a hunch -- is Judge returns to the Yankees, though I admit I am less certain about that now than I was a few weeks ago.
There is a chance Judge leaves the Yankees to sign with Giants or Dodgers or whoever. I don't know what those chances are, but they're definitely not zero. And if Judge does leave, it would be a devastating blow to a Yankees team trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since 2009. The way I see it, the Yankees have four options in the event Judge leaves. Let's break down their potential Plan Bs.
Option 1: Sign a different star
The plan: The Yankees take the money they were going to give Judge and give it to another big name instead. Carlos Correa and Trea Turner are the only other free agents worth that kind of contract this winter, so one of them. The Yankees sign a different star and then proceed with the rest of their offseason however they were planning to proceed with it after re-signing Judge.
Example: Sign Correa or Turner. There you go.
The upside: You still have a bona fide star to anchor the lineup and sell the tickets, though neither Correa nor Turner will draw a gate the way Judge does. The marquee value of a homegrown superstar is almost impossible to match. On the field, the Yankees walk away from the offseason with one of the best players in the world and an elite performer, just not Judge.