What happens if the New York Yankees don’t extend Aaron Judge?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 23: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees looks on during the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on June 23, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 23: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees looks on during the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on June 23, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

In the spirit of the holiday season, the New York Yankees should sign Aaron Judge to a long-term contract as a gift to the team’s fanbase whenever the lockout ends. While the New York sports media often find issues to debate and disagree about, there is no dissension in regard to the need to keep Judge a Yankee for the rest of his career.

And, rather than be coy and protect his bargaining position, he recently proclaimed in public that he wants to be a Yankee for life. He clearly has become the face of the Yanks (and an icon for MLB).

General manager Brian Cashman maintains that it is a priority for the Bronx Bombers to sign Judge (who is entering his age-30 season) to a contract extension following an excellent 2021 campaign. This must be done sooner than later since the star right fielder will become a free agent after the 2022 season. Not retaining Judge would be like letting Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera go during the height of their careers.

But how much money would extending Judge cost the Yanks

? Putting aside the unknown outcomes of the CBA negotiations between MLB owners and players for the moment,

Ken Davidoff of the New York Post

posits that Judge might receive $189 million over five years (a figure initially suggested by colleague Joel Sherman of the Post), possibly adding another year and $38 million to this amount (i.e. six years and $227 million in total). The result would be just over $37 million AAV.

Davidoff adds that vesting options for 2028 through 2030 (Judge’s age-36 through age-38 seasons) might also be included based on plate appearances. An opt-out year (perhaps 2024) could also be thrown in if necessary.

But what if Judge seeks more than what the Yankees wish to offer, and both parties cannot reach an agreement? After all, the cross-town rival New York Mets just agreed to a three-year, $130 million contract for the 37-year-old pitcher Max Scherzer ($43.33 million AAV), who is near the end of his career. Will Judge expect a similar AAV deal as an everyday player?

If they cannot reach an agreement, Judge will walk after the 2022 season, and the team will have lost a great player and will be almost starting from scratch. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that.

Of course, the Yanks could instead trade him before the midseason deadline if negotiations fail between the two parties and the team is not contending. It is uncertain, however, how much the club would receive in return for a short-term rental.

Then again, Judge would be seen as a blockbuster addition to contenders or clubs looking to rebuild with the hope of signing him to a long-term deal. At the very least, he would not be expensive to carry for only half a season at his present salary (~$18 million).

Obviously, they could allow him to leave if an agreement can’t be reached and if trade offers at midseason are significantly inferior and do not address the team’s critical needs. This will save the club a boatload of money, but at what cost? Losing your best player? This raises the question, what might the Boys in Pinstripes do with the money saved if they do not extend him?

Before tackling this question, let’s first look at possible trades the Yanks can make for Judge before the 2022 trade deadline.

Is trading Aaron Judge realistic for the Yankees?

Trading Judge midseason will not result in acquiring an MLB player (or players) of equal caliber. Given the uncertainty of Judge’s length of tenure with a new team, we should expect that most clubs will be more likely to want to offer prospects and be less likely to be willing to take a risk and part with any of their frontline players. Even if teams are contenders and hope to reach the playoffs and the World Series, this will be true.

Unless the Yanks begin to actively participate in free agency following the lockout, the team will need a catcher, shortstop, center fielder, another solid starting pitcher, and some relief help next season and beyond. The Bombers already have a couple of excellent prospects in the minors at shortstop, so they are unlikely to make acquiring another one a high priority. Also, if they trade Judge or if he becomes a free agent, they will need to find a replacement for him in right field since Joey Gallo, a Scott Boras client, will also be a free agent after 2022.

But is there even a real viable trade candidate? The Yankees aren’t trading Judge within the division, to another AL rival, or to the Mets. So that rules out a number of potential suitors. As for rebuilding teams, many wouldn’t be willing to take a chance on a half-season of Judge in exchange for a haul of top prospects when they don’t know if the slugger will remain on the roster beyond 2022.

The only (unrealistic) trades we can see here are ones to NL contenders who are looking to make a World Series push in 2022. Perhaps the San Francisco Giants? St. Louis Cardinals? Milwaukee Brewers? It’s tough, and likely won’t work.

Possible players who can be acquired with Aaron Judge’s extension money

If the Bombers don’t trade Judge by the trade deadline and instead let him go at the end of the season, they will need to search the free-agent market after 2022 to fill holes in their lineup.

According to Spotrac, the free-agent list includes several good starting pitchers: Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and Mike Clevinger. Perhaps Jacob deGrom opts out of his deal with the Mets. Any of these pitchers can significantly improve the Yanks’ rotation.

The Boys in Pinstripes could also pursue Willson Contreras or Mike Zunino in free agency to replace Gary Sanchez. Either one would be an upgrade.

Next year’s free-agent market will be thin at center field. Possible acquisitions include Enrique Hernandez and defensive wiz Kevin Kiermaier.

Free-agent right fielders will include Wil Meyers, Charlie Blackmon, and Adam Duvall. If the Yanks need to “replace” Judge, one of these players could step in and produce solid numbers.

The Yankees will make a monumental mistake if they do not sign Judge to a multi-year contract that keeps him under team control for the remainder of his career. He has quickly become the team leader, and his constant presence was the sole reason the team was even able to remain afloat last year.

Building upon his excellent 2021 season, he has set 50 home runs as an aspirational goal for 2022. Such grit and determination should be valued and rewarded by the Yanks.