BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Aaron Judge failed to hit a home run so far in four games. He struck out five times, including a couple times in the Yankees’ 3-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
Somehow, everything evens out in 162 games. He will hit gargantuan home runs. He will get his 35 or more home runs and drive in 100 or home runs. This should not be a concern.
Here’s what’s concerning: Could this be Judge’s last year as a Yankee?
As you know, Judge is a free agent after this season, and he rejected the Yankees’ seven-year contract extension at $30.5 million per year last week.
It wasn’t surprising he rejected the Yankees’ offer. No matter how the Yankees were going to pay him, he was going to enter the free-agent market. He wants the wine-and-dine experience from teams. Who can blame him? He’s going to get paid no matter what. Why not make the Yankees sweat?
The Yankees have no one to blame but themselves for being in this situation. They had all offseason last year to talk to Judge and his agent on an extension, but they never did. They wanted him to play out his contract, and well he is going to do just that. Now, he controls the situation.
Judge earned it for what he accomplished in the Major Leagues. Yes, he hasn’t exactly been Derek Jeter or Bernie Williams or even Tino Martinez. But he has been productive in the regular season. Players like him don’t come often. He is in the prime years of his career. This could be the last time he ever gets a chance to be a free agent, so why wouldn’t he want to?
If Judge is not a Yankee next year, it would be a disaster. This is the Yankees. They can’t let their homegrown player go to another team as a free agent. This is a team that is supposed to prey on the small market team’s best players in the free-agent market. They would be an object of ridicule not just in New York, but throughout baseball if their best player leaves as a free agent.
There’s no question Judge has warts in his game such as his strikeouts. You can say the same for any elite player. There’s no question he can be injury-prone. Still, his production on the field is not something to overlook. He has the makeup to play in New York, and he has been one of the rare Yankees that actually produce in the postseason. Good luck finding a replacement like that if he is gone. It’s hard to get players that are bigger, stronger and determined. A swing like Judge is hard to teach and get.
With due respect to many Yankees in the lineup, Judge is the team’s best player, hitter, fielder, baserunner and best asset. Most importantly, he is clutch. He is their best player since Jeter.
Out of the recent homegrown Yankees that has become a star, it’s been Judge.
The Yankees have to be realistically concerned. Why else would Yankees general manager Brian Cashman go out and tell the public what the team offered Judge? They know he is going to get paid. The sight of him playing crosstown makes them nervous because Mets owner Steve Cohen has the money to pay a player that he wants as demonstrated with Francisco Lindor and Max Scherzer.
There’s no guarantee Judge will stay. This is what happens when Yankees dallied along with negotiations. They are playing a risky game with their star.
For those that say, Judge is leaving plenty of money on the table. That’s true, but it shows he is betting on himself that he can get more. It’s the type of confidence that makes him great. He knows he can do better. Teams like the Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers can pay, too. For all we know maybe a small-market team can take a plunge on him.
Also for those that say he is making a mistake about leaving a historic franchise, face it, the Yankees haven’t been the Yankees since George Steinbrenner died. The Yankees are nothing more than just another team now. The mystique and aura passed away the minute Curt Schilling once said those two attributes are dancers in a nightclub in the 2001 World Series, which the Yankeed choked away a championship in Game 7. Judge couldn’t care less about the historic franchise since he hasn’t won with them and the past does not resonate with him. Only thing he is going to care is whether or not he is the highest paid player in baseball.
It’s 50-50 now what Judge does. This makes this year interesting for him. Will his struggles this season be correlated to his contract situation? Could he enhance his legacy by betting on himself? What will he do this offseason?
All interesting questions. We will all be waiting for an answer this season and this winter. Certainly, the Yankees will.
Judge controls the situation, and that’s the way he wanted it.