Aaron Judge is the most famous player on the most famous team in baseball. So far this year, he's that team's best player, too. And after he turned down a nine-figure extension offer from the New York Yankees on the eve of the season, he's set to become a free agent this winter.
The Yankees (via GM Brian Cashman) made a point last month to make public their final offer to Judge: An extension of seven years and $213.5 million. The Yankees haven't handed out a nine-figure deal since giving Gerrit Cole $324 million in late 2019. In all of baseball over the past two offseasons, only Corey Seager has been guaranteed more than that $213.5 million offer as a free agent (he got $325 million for 10 years).
But Judge, a year before he hits free agency, turned it down. So now the biggest question is: How much could he get in the winter? It's worth a look, given his blistering hot start to 2022: third-best WAR in baseball, hitting .307, leading the league in homers with 14 -- and he's actually been unlucky this year with ball-in-play luck per Baseball Savant's xwOBA statistic. That stat predicts outcomes based on exit velo, launch angle and other advanced data that's a more reliable measure of talent in small samples. Judge is tied with Mike Trout for best in the league, way ahead of everyone else.
Even if you want to adjust expectations below his on-pace numbers -- after all, we're only a quarter of way into the season -- various projection systems (which consider both his performance and health history) are predicting Judge to essentially match his career-best WAR (8.0, according to Baseball Reference) from 2017. Judge isn't just off to a hot start, he looks headed for a career year, one that couldn't come at a better time.
Finding a comparable
Given the situation in April, I think both Judge -- in turning down the deal -- and the Yankees -- in offering it -- acted rationally. The Yankees' offer was higher than many (including myself) thought they would go. But expecting Cashman to give an offer Judge couldn't refuse on his aged-30-plus seasons wasn't likely -- and for Judge, the year before he becomes a free agent, taking anything less than that wouldn't make sense. Why not bet on yourself and let things play out?
The problem I have in projecting a deal for Judge is also why he and the Yankees couldn't come to an agreement: There aren't many to compare for him, both as a function of what teams are looking for and also how good he is.
He's huge (obviously). He has massive power. He is one of the better players in the league. The main issue in any negotiation will be around the length of a contract because he'll be entering his age-31 season and has a history of durability issues: he's only played more than 112 games twice in his career, though last year was one of those seasons.