Aaron Judge was consistent until the end. The Yankees slugger never let himself talk about his free agency during the season. After turning down a $234 million extension offer on opening day, Judge turned his attention to the field.
He came out and had a historic season with free agency and the possibility of him never playing in the Bronx in pinstripes again awaits the end. So Sunday night, after the end came in a 6-5 loss to the Astros at Yankee Stadium, Judge said he still wasn’t ready to think about his future.
Not even stepping out of the field in Sunday night’s final, Judge thought of it as the end.
“Not at all. I tried to go out there and do my job and help this team win and I really didn’t think about it. It happened so fast. You didn’t really time to soak it in,” Judge said. “This will all go through my agent. I haven’t even thought about the next step yet, but like I said, we have time to figure it out. I never been to this place before so not sure how to answer that.
The 30-year-old was clearly unhappy on opening day, when, after declining the Yankees’ eight-year extension offer, general manager Brian Cashman came out and laid out the details of what was on the table . At the time, it was a deal that would have been worth $234 million, including 2022. The judge bet on himself that he could get more than the annual AAV of $30.5 million. dollars.
And it turns out to be a smart bet.
While some will recall him cutting .139/.184/.306 with two homers, 15 strikeouts and a .490 OPS in the playoffs, Judge had a landmark season, allaying doubts about his ability to stay. healthy and setting up MVP-type numbers-while playing mostly center field.
“Amazing. Just an amazing season and someone I’ve grown closer to and admire and respect and hope we see him in pinstripes for a long time,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I don’t even want to think about the alternative right now.
“But he means a lot to a lot of us in this room.”
His bat would also mean a lot in other lineups and there are teams that are willing to pay for it.
The Giants, near his northern and central California birthplace, are rumored to be a landing spot for Judge. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Mets were also rumored landing spots.
Judge has always made it clear, however, that he’d like to play his entire career with the Yankees — if they’re fair with their offer.
On Sunday night, he expressed how special playing here was for him.
“To have the chance to wear the stripes and play on the right court at Yankee Stadium. It’s an incredible honor that I certainly didn’t take for granted at any time,” Judge said. “I always check myself before the game when I say a little prayer and look around the stadium and kind of pinch myself. There were very few people who had the chance to race in this area and do it and play in front of the fans who have supported us throughout my six years here.
“So that was a special moment, you know, I just kicked myself for not winning that championship for them.”
He has, however, given them something to cheer about, especially this season.
He led the majors with 62 home runs and a 10.6 bWAR, and was tied with Pete Alonso of the Mets with 131 RBIs. The 62 home runs broke a 61-year-old American League and Yankees single-season home run record. It is the seventh-highest hit in a single season in baseball history.
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If this is the end of an era in the Bronx for Judge, it was a pretty memorable ride. He debuted in 2016 with a home run in his first major league batting, foreshadowing his move to pinstripe. He may have struggled the rest of this season, but in 2017 he left no doubt that he would be the leader of this local ‘Baby Bombers’ team.
He was the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year, hitting .284/.422/.627 with a rookie-era record of 52 home runs and 114 RBIs. He would finish second in the AL MVP voting out Jose Altuve of the Astros.
During this postseason, Judge led the “Baby Bombers” to an unexpected playoff run, setting high expectations for another Core Four-like dynasty.
He never came.
Gary Sanchez crashed, Dellin Betances was brilliant, but he was exhausted. Luis Severino has been limited to 27 innings over three years by injuries and Greg Bird has never failed. They’ve made the playoffs every season since Judge’s rookie year, but have never won an AL pennant, let alone a World Series.
Judge has also been slowed by injuries himself, which he has overcome over the past two seasons. He missed 45 games in 2018 with a broken right wrist, 54 in 2019 with an oblique strain and in 2020 he missed 30 of the COVID-shortened 60-game season with a sprained calf. Since then, he has only missed nine games on the COVID injured list.
The age of the judge will also be a factor in his contract. He will enter his 31-year-old season in 2023, four years older than most players who have recently been awarded mega long-term contracts. He could challenge the best AAV in the game, though. The Mats’ Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million tops the charts and his former teammate Gerrit Cole set a Yankees record at $36 million.