Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Yankees Bring Back Judge, Who Must Now Win A Ring To Completely Cement Legacy


Aaron Judge at bat on May 11, 2002 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Photo by Jason Schott.

On Wednesday morning, the Yankees announced that they have re-signed the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, Aaron Judge, to a 9-year, $360 million contract.

Judge, who burst on the scene when he hit 52 home runs to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2007, has been the face of the team, and he has only continued to astonish. That all built up to the 62 home runs he hit this past season to set the American League and Yankee franchise records.

The one thing missing from Judge's ledger is a trip to the World Series and a championship ring. 

Since the Yankees have now bet heavily on Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gerrit Cole, the "win now or else" mentality must return to The Bronx.

It is disconcerting that regular season success and then a playoff series win, usually over the Oakland Athletics or some AL Central team, have become acceptable in The Bronx.

Judge's return is the culmination of a chaotic couple of weeks when all the signs might not have pointed in that direction. 

Just before Thanksgiving, he was wined and dined by his hometown San Francisco Giants, who even brought in Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry to sell him on coming to the Bay Area.

Then, last week, it was revealed, possibly by the Yankees themselves, that they offered him an eight-year contract worth $300 million. The motivation for revealing this was interesting, like was it a pre-emptive move if he didn't come back, like, well, we tried. For example, the Mets' offer to Jacob deGrom was revealed after he had already signed with the Texas Rangers.

The winter meetings were underway on Sunday night, so the activity started to heat up on free agents with shortstop Trea Turner leaving the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies for an 11-year, $300 million contract.Yes, the same amount of money that the Yankees offered Judge, tipping that might not be enough. 

The intrigue built on Tuesday when it was revealed, in a Time magazine article on Judge being named Athlete of the Year, that he was not too happy that Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman revealed the offer he turned down a seven-year, $213 million contract.

Judge told Time,  "We kind of kept said, 'Hey, let's keep this between us.' I was a little upset that the numbers came out. I understand it's a negotiation tactic. Put pressure on me. Turn the fans against me, turn the media on me. That part of it I didn't like."

Later in the day, the New York Post's Jon Heyman reported that the San Francisco Giants offered him a nine-year, $360 million contract, then later that Judge was heading there - it was retracted within the hour.

The result of all of this is that Yankees fans woke up to the news that Judge will be coming back to The Bronx.

This past season, in a career-high 157 games, he hit .311 with 62 home runs and 131 RBI, with a .425 on-base percentage, a .686 slugging percentage, and a 1.111 on-base plus slugging percentage. All numbers were career highs for the current free agent. proving himself correct to bet on himself after turning down the Yankees offer. It turned out to be worth two more years and $147 million on the contract.

In his six-plus years with the Yankees, Judge has hit .284 (177-for-570), with 220 home runs and 497 RBI. His debut, on August 13, 2016, in which he hit a home run, came one day after the retirement of Alex Rodriguez, the last Yankee to win the American League MVP award, which he did in 2005 and 2007.

That success in the regular season has not translated to the postseason, as he has hit .211 with 13 home runs and 25 RBI in 44 playoff games.

This past season was a familiar story, as he hit a dismal .139 - or to put it even blunter - 5-for-36, with two home runs and three RBI in a postseason in which the Yankees had to fight very hard to beat the upstart Cleveland Guardians in five games in the AL Division Series, and then were swept rather easily by the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series.

In Judge's tenure with the Yankees, he has taken them to the ALCS three times, in 2017, '19, and '22, and they were defeated in all three by Houston. They also lost to the Red Sox twice in the postseason, in the 2018 ALDS and in the 2021 Wild Card game.

It's been far longer since Judge arrived that they have been in the World Series, since they won it in 2009, so obviously the malaise began before he arrived, but he certainly is the face of postseason disappointment now.

The hope is that now, with this massive vote of confidence from the Yankees, that Judge brings his regular season success into the postseason, similar to how Rodriguez, after he signed his 10-year contract after the 2007 season, exorcised his demons by helping them win it all two years later.

The second Judge gets a ring, he will join the pantheon of Yankees legends, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter.

After all, the greatest, if not only, measure of success as a Yankee is the number of World Series you win.

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