Whether the New York Yankees didn’t deem it an urgent priority or they were standing in solidarity with the rest of the league’s owners to hold a firm stance on the next collective bargaining agreement, Aaron Judge, as of this moment, is set to enter 2022 in a contract year after not receiving an extension during last season or before the lockout.
Recently, Judge opened up about his contract situation and potential future in the Bronx, and it seems he’s resigned to the possibility that there may be no future offer and he could very will hit the open market.
Do Yankees fans think that will happen? Most probably don’t … but many are worried about what the team might do because they no longer spend as liberally as they used to and would run the risk of having three (or possibly four, depending on what else they decide to do this offseason) contracts on the payroll that feature $30 million AAV salaries.
At this point, the concern is real because the Yankees let it reach this juncture and have made it a priority in recent seasons to get under the luxury tax threshold when they’re the most valuable franchise in the sport (and one of the most valuable in the world).
So, in the (hopefully) unlikeliest event that the Yankees have the gall to let Judge test free agency next offseason, where might he land? The man is a top-10 (and arguably top-five) player in the game when healthy (career .940 OPS and 150 OPS+), so plenty of opposing GMs would be willing to take a gamble on such a player entering his age-31 season.
Aaron Judge could land with these three teams if the Yankees let him hit free agency
3. Seattle Mariners
That’s the Almost Contending Seattle Mariners to you! General manager Jerry Dipoto signaled before the lockout that the M’s weren’t kidding about their resurgent 2021 by signing Robbie Ray to a five-year contract and trading for Adam Frazier in a deal with the Padres.
Even with those moves, the Mariners’ payroll stands at $79.3 million for 2022 and $104.5 million for 2023 (assuming they tender everyone a contract and exercise every team option). It’s unclear what an extension for Judge might look like, but we can expect a beefy deal in the $200 million range. Let’s say it’s seven years for $210 million for the sake of argument.
That’s a $30 million AAV and would push the Mariners into the $130 million payroll range, which is still relatively low. The M’s reportedly haven’t approached current starting right fielder Mitch Haniger about an extension, which might indicate where they stand on him. The 31-year-old is entering a contract year as well, but has missed a ton of time due to various injuries.
Might as well just pay up for Judge, who’s a year younger and significantly better on both sides of the ball. And if Judge’s arrival coincides with the promotions of guys like Julio Rodriguez, Matt Brash, George Kirby, Emerson Hancock and others, Seattle could become a high-profile destination once again.