Everything was prepared for Aaron Judge to own the day. Two outs, bottom nine, tie game on opening day in the Bronx. Judge comes in to hit and rip a twin drive in the left field corner. He should jog in the winning race, right? It will certainly happen after that.
Well, no. The judge is stranded in the second base. The Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox, 6-5, at Josh Donaldson’s song in the eleventh inning. The judge was on board at the end. It was fitting for an opener that wasn’t quite right.
The judge began the day by moving into Brett Gardner’s old locker at Yankee Stadium, the home club’s prime property: next to an empty booth, right next to the bathrooms, with a clear view of the TV.
“I spoke to Gardy a little bit about it—he said, ‘Take care of it,'” said the judge. “It’s an incredible honor.”
The judge was cautious about holding talks with the Yankees. We’ll know, through the first show, he said, if the team met the deadline for a long-term deal before becoming a free agent in the off-season. General Manager Brian Cashman saved us the suspense: Two hours before the game, he announced that the talks were over.
“Our goal is for Aaron Judge to remain as the New York Yankee as we move forward, and I know that’s his intent as well, which is good,” Cashman said. “Obviously we are going to enter those efforts into a new arena, which will be at the end of the season, when the free agency starts. Maybe that will determine his true market value, because we certainly can’t agree at this point.”
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Cashman took the helpful and unusual step of revealing the Yankees Offer: Seven Years at $30.5 million a season, to begin in 2023. The Yankees have never shared details like this in public, but they always come out, and Cashman said it was really fair. . He saves himself a flurry of text messages from reporters.
Understandable, sure, but transparency is not a judge’s style.
“I don’t like to talk about numbers,” he said after the match. “I like to keep this private. This is something that I felt was special between my team and the Yankees.”
Well, but now we know: A judge could have guaranteed himself $213.5 million for seven years — after a 2022 salary of $17 million or $21 million, unless the parties avoided an arbitration hearing — but they refused. He has every right to search for his true value on the open market and is now ready to do so.
“At the end of the year, I am a free agent,” the judge said. “Talk to 30 teams, and the Yankees will be one of those 30. It’s always good to try to finish something, the better. But we couldn’t get it done, and now it’s baseball.”
Judge, who turns 30 this month, is an exceptional player: Over the past five seasons, only one hitter with at least 1,500 appearances, Mike Trout, can top the referee in both the base percentage (.391) and the higher slowdown (. .563). But the judge was not always particularly private; He was healthy as a starter and again last season, but missed 37 percent of the Yankees’ games in the three years between them.
By rejecting the deal, the judge now bears all the risks. Which is baffling, because the show seemed to match his wishes. Here’s how the judge described his feelings at the collapse of contract talks:
“I’m only disappointed because I think I’ve been honest about ‘I want to be a Yankee for life’ and I want to bring a championship back to New York. I want to do that for the fans here. They’re family. This is home to me. And not doing it now, it sucks, but I have work to do on the field and I have to shift my focus to that now and go play some ball.”
Again: it’s the judge’s profession and the judge’s life, and no one should sign something that makes him uncomfortable. Perhaps he wanted something akin to Trout, 30, who averaged $35.5 million a year through 2030.
So what is important to judge in these negotiations? This question was interesting.
“What was important to me was trying to close a deal,” he said. We couldn’t do that. So I think it was plain and simple. I will not go into the details of anything. I have to focus on bringing the championship back to New York. Over a long time. We weren’t able to agree on anything.”
When the Red Sox signed Trevor Story last month (six years, $140 million), they asked Story to get a Covid vaccine. Only vaccinated players will be allowed into Canada for matches against the Toronto Blue Jays, and the judge was shy about his status. Cashman did not say what role, if any, played in the negotiations, but the judge categorically said it was not a topic in the talks.
So here we have a player who says he wants to stay beyond this season, and a team who says he would have been paid $30.5 million a year, until age 37, to do so. And the issue of vaccination, according to the judge, was not part of the conversations.
So why didn’t Opening Day start with a long-term agreement between the franchisor and the franchisee? The judge doesn’t say, and not the kind of guy who seems eager to understand it fully. Cashman said the Yankees will always listen if a judge wants talks to resume, but don’t bet that that will happen.
The big bet is by Judge, himself, a strategy with mixed results for other players. Juan Gonzalez turned down an offer of $140 million from the Tigers after they traded for him in 1999 – bringing in about $46 million for the rest of his career. Then again, Max Scherzer turned down a $144 million offer, also made by the Tigers, in 2014 — and secured a $210 million deal with Washington in free agency.
The judge said he was good at his gamble. As for passing on the Yankees show, he said he was just honored to have the conversation.
“I appreciate the Yankees’ desire to do this, but I wouldn’t mind going into free agency,” he said, adding that he can now focus fully on his job. “I’m not really going to look at all the negatives. Some people don’t leave their homes if I think about all the things that could happen to them. I just focus on what I need to do on the field and everything else will take care of itself.”
She may not take care of herself with the Yankees. But only the judge knows why.