At 58-23, the New York Yankees have baseball’s best record by 4 1/2 games, and AL MVP candidate Aaron Judge has been the driving force behind the American League’s highest-scoring offense. Judge owns a .281/.360/.612 batting line with an MLB-leading 29 home runs. No other player has more than 25 homers.
Judge famously rejected a seven-year, $213.5 million contract extension in spring training. He is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, so his MVP-caliber year couldn’t have come at a better time. On Wednesday, Yankees chairman Hal Steinbrenner held a Zoom call with reporters, and would not confirm whether contract talks with Judge are ongoing.
“No matter what happens during the season, we’re not going to give any updates. We’re just not going to do it. I mean, I completely agree with Aaron that in no way, shape, or form can this be a distraction. The sole focus in winning a championship,” Steinbrenner said, according to The Athletic and ESPN. “… There is no doubt we are hopeful (we can work out an extension), but there is a lot of discussion to be had. But we are not going to do anything until the season is over.”
The Yankees and Judge avoided arbitration with a $19 million deal for 2022 last month and, at the time, Judge said the agreement did not create any momentum toward a long-term extension. “No. We got this one done. I was happy about that,” he told MLB.com. Judge has remained steadfast that he would test the free-agent market if an extension wasn’t in place before Opening Day.
“Very few people get this opportunity to talk extension. Me getting this opportunity is something special and I appreciate the Yankees wanting to do that,” Judge said after rejecting the extension in spring training. “But I don’t mind going into free agency … At the end of this year, I’ll talk to 30 teams. The Yankees will be one of those teams.”
A homegrown star leaving the Yankees is rare but it does happen. Less than a decade ago Robinson Canó left New York for a larger contract with the Seattle Mariners. Cano is the last player to sign a 10-year contract going into his age-31 season, which Judge will do next year. Teams just don’t hand out super long-term deals to players on the wrong side of 30 anymore.
The best comparison is the seven-year, $245 million contract the Los Angeles Angels gave Anthony Rendon. Rendon signed that contract heading into his age-30 season, not his age 31 season, but Judge is a much more marketable player whose value to the Yankees transcends his on-field performance because he puts butts in the seats and drives television ratings.
While I would bet on Judge and the Yankees working out a new contract after the season, things can change quickly once a player hits the open market. All it takes is one desperate owner or general manager to throw a wrench into things (like the Mariners with Canó). For now, Steinbrenner is playing coy about extension talks, but all signs point to Judge hitting free agency in a few months.