In the end, the Yankees didn’t just hold on to Aaron Judge. They held on for dear life.
The Yankees threw crazy money and a crazy contract at Judge because they had to, because they couldn’t lose their star and the face of their franchise and 62 home runs, because if they didn’t hold on to him, they were going to rile up their fan base more than it’s riled up already. In all possible ways, the Yankees could not afford to swing and miss with Aaron Judge.
They gave Judge $360 million and nine years, which takes him right up to age 40, and they hope that he doesn’t look as old as Albert Pujols did at the end of the long, expensive contract that the Angels gave him once, which means older than the George Washington Bridge before Pujols’ finishing kick with his old team, the Cardinals, this past season.
Again and again: Judge stays because the Yankees simply could not afford to let him go, not at a time when they have gone 13 years without winning a World Series or even playing in one despite all of the money that Hal Steinbrenner has spent — that he’s allowed general manager Brian Cashman to spend — on baseball players.
There was this notion in the Yankee media that somehow Judge would have disappeared into the mist if he’d gone home to play for the Giants. Right. Got it. Even people in outer space know that the Giants have won three World Series since the Yankees last played in one, in addition to winning 107 games two years ago.
The Yankees spend big, long money at a time when Steve Cohen and the Mets have spent big, shorter money on Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander the past two baseball winters. We’ll see how that works out for both sides next season, even though both sides clearly aren’t done spending, long or short. All we know for now is that the Yankees ended up spending around $150 million more on Judge than they offered him in the spring.
Their offer of $213 million at the time was hardly insulting, considering how many games Judge missed between 2018 and 220. But the way the Yankees handled things was both clumsy, and exhibited an almost flop-sweat desperation to somehow provide cover. And we find out now, from Judge himself, how annoyed Judge was when the Yankees sprinted to make the offer that he’d refused public.
“We kind of said, ‘Hey, let’s keep this between us,’” Judge told Time Magazine. “I was a little upset that the numbers came out. I understand it’s a negotiation tactic. Put pressure on me. Turn the fans against me, turn the media on me. That part of it I didn’t like.”
But now all is well that ends well, especially for Judge, who became the biggest star in his own sport and the biggest star in all sports when he finally caught Babe Ruth at 60 homers and then passed Ruth; before he caught Roger Maris at 61 and ultimately passed Maris, with one of the most famous swings in Yankee history and baseball history. Judge did become their Babe, towering over baseball this past season the way Ruth did in the 1920s, turning every single trip to the plate and every swing into something no one wanted to miss.
So the Yankees don’t swing and miss with this guy. The Yankees feel like they win something important by not losing No. 99. They can’t worry about what kind of hitter Judge is going to be at the back end of the deal. They don’t want to think about what he might look like at the back end of the deal. They can only hope that he can hit at least as well as Alex Rodriguez, everybody’s All-American, hit the year he turned 40, as he neared the end of the 10-year contract he signed with the Yankees after he opted out of his old Rangers contract during the 2007 World Series.
The Yankees spend this kind of money on him next season with the money they are already spending on Gerrit Cole, and the money they are spending on Giancarlo Stanton on the rest of the contract he brought with him from the Marlins. We are talking about a roster that now has three guys working on contracts whose original value was north of $300 million. At least in this one area, the Yankees are still world champs.
But here is the deal about sports, even when you make this kind of splash by hanging on to one of your own: You are either moving towards the championship trophy or away from him. All the Yankees did on Wednesday, for a very big tab, was hold their place. Coming off a postseason when the Astros threw them down a flight of stairs in the American League Championship Series, and looked superior everywhere except Aaron Judge.
After all the money Steinbrenner and Cashman spend on Judge, it will be interesting how much more money they can spend, and where they can spend it, as they try to get better than the Astros in the American League and try to stay a game better than the Cleveland Guardians, which is all they were in the division series between the two teams.
For now, though, Yankee fans sigh a sigh of relief as big as the big man because he doesn’t go play baseball for the next decade in San Francisco. Judge doesn’t become the greatest Yankee ever to walk away from the Yankees in his prime. It never should have come to this, of course. The Yankees get their man — get to keep their man — anyway. They were the ones to rise up with All Rise for the best possible reason. They had no choice.