Aaron Judge will remain with the New York Yankees in a signing that could affect all of MLB.
After a year's worth of back and forth and a lot of interest from the rest of baseball, the outfielder agreed to a nine-year, $360 million deal with the Yankees on Wednesday, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The reward comes after a dominant 2022 season in which Judge led MLB with 62 home runs and 131 RBI on the way to his first MVP award.
The contract is a significant one as we head into the 2023 season. Here are three instant reactions after the latest deal.
Betting On Yourself Can Pay
It's rare to hear the full details of contract offers that aren't signed, but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman revealed in April that Judge turned down an eight-year, $230.5 million deal before Opening Day.
Judge admitted in November that he initially thought this might have been a mistake.
"It was tough in the beginning, definitely in April when I think it took me two weeks to get my first home run," Judge said on MLB Network (h/t Dan Martin of the New York Post). "There's a little doubt that creeps into your mind about it and you’re sitting in the outfield kicking yourself, like, 'Man, maybe I should have taken that deal.'"
It turns out Judge was right to trust his first instincts.
The 30-year-old came through with one of the best hitter seasons in a decade. Beyond his American League record for home runs, he also set career highs with a .311 batting average, .425 on-base percentage and 211 OPS+.
As a result, he now has the third-largest contract in MLB history. At $40 million per year, his annual contract ranks third in baseball behind New York Mets pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
Counting his $19 million earned in 2022, Judge added $148.5 million in contract value by not taking the offer last year and betting on himself.
Other players may replicate the move in the future, waiting until free agency to maximize their value rather than taking team-friendly contracts earlier in the process.
Pressure Off Brian Cashman...for Now
The Yankees re-signed Cashman to a four-year deal earlier this week, but fans certainly wouldn't have been happy if that preceded Judge leaving in free agency.
New York was unable to lock up Judge before his monster 2022 season, and there were rumors about the San Francisco Giants becoming the leader to sign the outfielder. The Yankees would have lost not only a major piece of their lineup for next season but also a massively popular player in the biggest market in the country.
Any struggles in 2023 would have put Cashman squarely on the hot seat.
Re-signing Judge gives the fans what they want and keeps the Yankees as a top contender after they went 99-63 last season. With other big hitters like Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo still in the lineup, New York should still have one of the top offenses in baseball and be the team to beat in the AL East.
The Yankees still have work to do, however, especially considering they have failed to get past the Houston Astros in the AL. They have reached the playoffs in each of the last eight years but have yet to reach the World Series in this span.
Cashman must continue to add depth to the lineup and rotation to help put New York over the top.
If the team falls short in the playoffs again next year, the GM will hear more calls for his job.
Steep Drop-Off in Impact Free Agents
The Giants were among the top teams in the Judge sweepstakes, while the Boston Red Sox were also in touch with the player, per Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com. And other big-market teams like the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers are always seemingly involved in the potential signings of top free agents.
But there are few options for teams seeking an impact player in free agency, especially in the outfield.
Judge has had a 16.9 fWAR over the last two seasons combined, but only one other free-agent outfielder—Brandon Nimmo—has had more than 5.0 fWAR in this span, per MLB.com.
Nimmo is a solid all-around player who could help a contender, but he had just 16 home runs last season after tallying eight in each of the previous three years. The 29-year-old is nowhere near the middle-of-the-order difference-maker Judge has been.
Those in need of offensive help could target one of the shortstops among Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson, but arguably the top option at the position is already off the board after Trea Turner agreed to an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday. The remaining players could get pricey with limited alternatives on the open market.
Any team seeking a big-name addition this offseason better move quickly because the well will dry up in a hurry.