Yankees star Aaron Judge is back on the injured list and he can’t seem to stay healthy.
We had hoped we could avoid this discussion in 2020. After the season was delayed until the end of July and the New York Yankees dodged a bullet by having Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and others miss significant time, it seemed reasonable that the big guns could last an entire 60-game campaign plus the playoffs.
But that was apparently wishful thinking. Stanton is already out for a month with a hamstring injury and Judge hit the injured list this week with a hurt calf. Judge’s last uninterrupted season came in 2017, and Stanton’s in 2018 (during which he battled a hamstring injury, but stayed in the lineup). The good news for Stanton is that he’s protected by his $325 million contract.
Judge? He’s got two more years of arbitration eligibility before hitting free agency. Yankees fans know a contract extension has to be coming sometime soon, but what if the former first-round pick can’t stay healthy over that span? What happens?
We hate to say this, but how can there already be “wear and tear” after 16 games played? A normal baseball season is 162 games. Judge spent most of the offseason resting and getting back to full strength, and then had to do it all over again from March until June with his rib issue. Unless there’s something we don’t know, he quite literally hasn’t been doing much because he wasn’t allowed to.
He’s been tearing the cover off the ball and playing stellar defense in right field yet again as a massive 6-8 human, so perhaps his everyday effort is more strenuous than the average player, but that will continually put the Yankees between a rock and a hard place with these future contract negotiations.
Here’s the conundrum. You can’t not keep Aaron Judge around. He cannot “walk” in free agency. He’s sitting back there waiting to be the face of baseball, but injuries keep preventing him from officially earning that title. General manager Brian Cashman would never fracture this relationship because of injuries, but what’s he supposed to do?
And to be honest, have we ever seen a player as impactful as Judge injured as often … but not injured enough to be an afterthought? He’s quite literally injured just enough for it to be a problem but still be a difference maker. It’s truly an anomaly. In just 214 games across 2018 and 2019, the man has has an 11.4 WAR (with positive marks on both sides of the ball)!
How do you properly evaluate a player of this caliber who’s simply not on the field enough to maximize his true worth? The 2017 season is all we have in terms of a full-season sample size, with the last three years being significantly shortened.
Obviously, this conversation is moot if Judge puts together fully healthy campaigns in 2021 and 2022, but if he were to hit free agency after 2020, is he a candidate, for say, a 10-year, $300 million deal? We truly don’t know. Nobody knows. But it’s the Yankees problem to deal with, and they need to tread lightly, because one disrespectful contract offer can potentially do irreparable damage.