Buyer Beware: Aaron Judge Signing with Giants Would Be Big Mistake for Both Sides

Zachary D. RymerNovember 30, 2022

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 23: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees looks on after reaching third base in the second inning against the Houston Astros in game four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 23, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The prospect of Aaron Judge, notable real-life giant, becoming a member of the San Francisco Giants is nothing if not a fun concept.

But a good idea? Less so.

Granted, it's a partnership that could happen anyway. The 6'7", 282-pound Judge—late of an American League MVP Award-winning season with the New York Yankees in which he smashed an AL-record 62 home runs and led MLB in numerous other categories—had a meeting with the Giants last Tuesday. They even tabbed Stephen Curry to help in the recruitment.

The next step is a formal offer, which MLB Network's Jon Morosi said was forthcoming:

Jon Morosi @jonmorosi

My report on Aaron Judge for <a href="https://twitter.com/MLBNetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLBNetwork</a> this morning — including his meeting with <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SFGiants?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SFGiants</a> ownership. <a href="https://twitter.com/MLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLB</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MLBNHotStove?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MLBNHotStove</a> <a href="https://t.co/Coo5HbFqPR">pic.twitter.com/Coo5HbFqPR</a>

The Giants may not have a shot at Judge if they aren't willing to guarantee a nine-figure sum that begins with a three, but they're surely capable of promising such a commitment. Their 2023 payroll projects at $133 million, almost $70 million south of the franchise's high mark.

"From a financial standpoint, there's nobody that would be out of our capability to kind of meet what we expect the contract demands will be," Farhan Zaidi, San Francisco's president of baseball operations, told reporters at the general managers meetings in early November.

What Makes Judge and the Giants a Good Fit

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 27: New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) signs autographs during the Major League Baseball game between the New York Yankees and the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on April 27, 2019 in San Francisco,  CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Look, even we can acknowledge that the 30-year-old Judge would be a three-for-one solution for the Giants' most outstanding needs.

The four right-handed hitters projected for San Francisco's everyday lineup in 2023 hit six fewer home runs in 2022 than Judge did on his own. He also boasts 61 defensive runs saved for his career, so he'd be quite the salve for an outfield that was last in DRS.

The Giants also have a dire need for a star that goes beyond the voids left by recently departed mainstays such as Buster Posey and Brandon Belt. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote Nov. 11, the Giants need a "marketing centerpiece" as much as anything.

Somebody to sell tickets, in other words. The Giants ranked in the top five of the National League for attendance 17 times in their first 19 seasons at Oracle Park. They've yet to do so since then, even amid a run to a franchise-record 107 wins in 2021.

To this end, the appeal of bringing in the biggest star in baseball—literally as much as figuratively—is obvious.

Though he'd ostensibly be a hired gun, it also wouldn't be overly hard for the Giants to sell Judge as a hometown hero coming, well, home. Say what you will about his hometown of Linden and his alma mater of Fresno State not really being in the Bay Area, but both were apparently approximate enough for Judge to grow up a Giants fan:

Aaron Judge @TheJudge44

<a href="https://twitter.com/SportsFan85?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@SportsFan85</a> favorite team is the Giants and my favorite players are Giancarlo Stanton and Albert Pujols.

Even if San Francisco wasn't the least bit familiar to Judge, he could perhaps still find the city more welcoming than the one where he last played. Remember, even the season he just had couldn't stop him from hearing boo birds at Yankee Stadium as opposing pitchers kept him quiet during the playoffs.

What Makes Judge and the Giants a Terrible Fit

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 23: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out to end the sixth inning against the Houston Astros in game four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 23, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

And yet how we feel about the Giants going all-in on Judge apparently isn't all that different from how the person who runs baseball operations for them does.

As Sherman also noted, there's an "an industry sense that Zaidi prefers to spread his dollars around and not invest so heavily in one piece." We'll take this as a sign that he can not only see clearly that his team finished an underwhelming 81-81 in 2022 but also that it's more than just one star away from substantial improvement.

Because if FanGraphs' WAR projections for 2023 are any indication, the Giants aren't even the third-best team in the National League West:

  1. San Diego Padres: 50.9 WAR
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 48.9 WAR
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks: 34.6 WAR
  4. San Francisco Giants: 34.2 WAR
  5. Colorado Rockies: 26.4 WAR

Clearly, the Giants would have a lot more adding to do even if they were to sign Judge. And whether you're looking at their payroll or a farm system that MLB.com ranked at No. 18 in August, their resources for doing so are less than bottomless.

Building around Judge could thus take the Giants years rather than months. A risky proposition under any circumstances, and that much more so in relation to his age and injury history. To wit, he missed 37 percent of the Yankees' games from 2018 to 2020, and he'll turn 31 on April 26.

There's also a non-zero chance that Judge would find it difficult to hold up his end of the bargain, if for no other reason than Oracle Park is much less friendly to right-handed sluggers than the one in the Bronx that he called home for seven seasons:

Graph via Google Sheets

Judge is, of course, no ordinary right-handed slugger. His batted ball metrics typically hover around the 100th percentile. It's almost as if big guy invariably equals big power.

At the same time, to assume that Judge has been such a great home run hitter—even before 2022, he averaged 46 homers per 162 games from 2017 to 2021—strictly because of his ability to wallop the ball is to undersell how good he was at making good use of Yankee Stadium's dimensions.

Even despite the time he missed with injuries, Judge hit 15 more opposite-field long balls at home than any other right-handed hitter from 2017 to 2022. A fair bunch of those just snuck over the right field wall at Yankee Stadium, whereas they would have been contained by Triples Alley at Oracle Park:

Images courtesy of Baseball Savant

This is to say nothing of what Oracle Park's rather large dimensions could mean for Judge's health over the long haul. Having so much ground to cover defensively would figure to take a toll on anyone's legs, much less the biggest position player in MLB history.

There Are Better Fits for Judge

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) reacts after his walk-off home run against the Houston Astros during the tenth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, June 26, 2022, in New York. The New York Yankees won 6-3. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)
AP Photo/Noah K. Murray

If finding a place to age gracefully is one of Judge's top priorities, all of the above is indeed as much an endorsement of Yankee Stadium as it is an indictment of Oracle Park.

This would be neither here nor there if the Yankees were out of the running to re-sign Judge, but every indication is that this is not the case.

According to Jon Heyman of the Post, the Yankees "feel pretty good" about their chances to retain Judge even after his meeting with the Giants. It helps their cause that they've already improved on the $230.5 million offer Judge rejected in April, and it can't hurt that they're serious about naming Judge captain:

YES Network @YESNetwork

Hal Steinbrenner tells <a href="https://twitter.com/M_Marakovits?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@M_Marakovits</a> that "they would consider" making Aaron Judge the next Yankees' captain. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/YANKSonYES?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#YANKSonYES</a> <a href="https://t.co/cilljzfhta">pic.twitter.com/cilljzfhta</a>

Honestly? Why not. Judge is more than just the best player the Yankees have developed since Derek Jeter. He also has a Jeterian ability to handle the pressure that comes with wearing Yankees pinstripes, the likes of which was never more apparent than when he smiled and shrugged off those ill-advised boos in October.

More so than the Giants, the Yankees are also simply one of the best hopes Judge has of winning a World Series or two before he calls it quits. Sure, the Giants have been to and won the Fall Classic three times since the Yankees last appeared in it in 2009. But in the last six seasons, the Yankees have played in 44 playoff games to the Giants' five.

To this end, Judge might leave even less to chance and sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom the last 10 seasons have consisted of more spending and winning than any other team. They're a fit for Judge, even if it means shifting fellow MVP Mookie Betts back to the infield.

It's up to Judge to whom to say yes. But if he decides he can't do better than the Giants, we will only be able to assume it's because his other options dropped the ball.