Aaron Judge represents the Yankees’ best draft choice since Derek Jeter nearly three decades ago — and it is not really close.
He also embodies many of the qualities of the last Yankees captain. He is productive on the field, pristine off the field, poised in the maw of New York. When it came time to give Jeter the big money, the Yankees haggled with their star shortstop, but before what would have been his walk season of 2001, they agreed to a 10-year, $189 million pact.
But the differences matter. At the time Jeter signed, he was among the most durable players in the game. He was just 26. He was not 6-foot-8. He did not have two teammates signed extravagantly for most of the next decade. His clock was not ticking during a global pandemic that could strangle the payroll excesses of even the richest teams.
I began to think about Judge’s tenure more seriously when the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts in early February — if Boston could trade the best right fielder in the majors …
As an organization, the Red Sox have been more cold-hearted in letting go icons and Idiots over the past two decades — from Nomar Garciaparra to Pedro Martinez to Manny Ramirez to Jon Lester to Betts.
The Yankees allowed both Andy Pettitte and Robinson Cano to exit through free agency. Judge, though, is the type the Yanks keep for a career, and I cannot imagine them trading him as the Red Sox did Garaciaparra, Ramirez, Lester and Betts. But it is going to be complicated to retain the slugger. With Judge being the Post Player Profile, I delve into what issues will create pause in Judge receiving that long-term pact to be a lifelong Yankee like Jeter:
- Age — Judge turned 28 last month. He was born in the same year (1992) as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, who were free agents last year, and Betts, who will be a free agent this winter. Judge cannot be a free agent until after 2022. He will already be 30. In Jeter’s era, teams did not fixate on age when handing out long-term deals like they do today. Plus, there is going to have to be guess-timates on how a player of Judge’s size will age because there are just no comparisons for him.
- Durability — About that size. It just might be that players built like Judge and Stanton, who swing as often as players do these days and as viciously, will not be able to stay healthy for full seasons. Even with the delay in the season, the Yanks are not saying whether Judge would be ready to play in 2020 (if there are games) as he heals from a rib he fractured last season and aggravated this year. Judge played 155 games in his 2017 rookie breakout, but just 214 games total the past two years. How much do you guarantee financially to a guy who might be a 100-120-game player?
- Payroll — Gerrit Cole has eight years at $288 million left after this season, Giancarlo Stanton seven years at $218 million (though the Marlins will pay $30 million of that). They are roughly $63 million combined a year through at least 2027.
Let’s say the Yanks never invest in Gary Sanchez, who is a free agent at the same time as Judge. But Gleyber Torres becomes arbitration eligible after this season, and might the Yanks have to think big picture: who is a better risk to give a third large contract to, Judge or Torres, who is still just 23? Plus, the only veteran starters the Yanks have under control are Cole and Luis Severino, who is a mystery because of his health. So money likely has to be applied to the rotation, unless a bunch of big minor league arms refine and emerge.
Can the Yankees have substantial money invested moving toward 2030 in Cole, Stanton, Judge, Torres and perhaps another pitcher and still build a championship whole? The Red Sox traded Betts for many reasons, in part that they were so locked in elsewhere long term that it made it harder to justify doing so with Betts as well.
And all of these decisions will have to be made based on the financial state of the game and the Yankees as the world emerges from the coronavirus. We are heading toward a great unknown. Will every team be in such a state that a withering of salaries and the number of long-term deals will occur? In that world, will a team that started with among the most, such as the Yankees, still be able to afford more than most and keep whomever it wants?
Even if the game returns to flush times quickly, the Yanks will have to calculate how far and how much they want to go for a player who shares much with Jeter, but also does not.
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