Is Aaron Judge not signing a contract extension with the New York Yankees ahead of his walk year ideal? Absolutely not. This is going to hang over the team’s head through September.
However … HOWEVER, it’s not the worst thing in the the world. In fact, it could be a silver lining. for the 2022 campaign.
So often over the last few years fans have characterized the Yankees as too complacent, not playing with enough urgency, or just flat-out not possessing the “it” factor that so many of their rivals have used to gain the inside track on them when it seemed New York had the better team on paper.
But now? How about this? There’s no guarantee Judge will be a Yankee come November. A number of other guys — Aroldis Chapman, Joey Gallo, Anthony Rizzo, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, Chad Green and others — will more than likely hit free agency, too.
So if there ever was a time … it’s now. The competition around the AL has largely weakened. Carlos Correa has left Houston. The Blue Jays, despite making admirable upgrades, certainly didn’t get “better” losing Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray. The Rays are the Rays but … they did get rid of a lot of talent. The Red Sox overachieved last year and arguably didn’t add enough firepower to supplement it their roster for 2022.
The Yankees theoretically could be characterized one of those teams when we’re talking Opening Day 2023. And can they really risk having nothing to show for it if it actually reaches that point?
Could the Yankees-Aaron Judge stalemate actually help New York?
Players in this locker room, especially ones without a ring like Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu, might be looking around at one another and fully understand the assignment. The team MVP could walk in the offseason and there won’t be comparable talent to replace him.
The rest of the roster could look around and better understand each and every player has a specific role to fill, whether it’s as important as Severino playing second fiddle to Cole in the rotation, Isiah Kiner-Falefa making the much-needed routine defensive plays at shortstop, or Michael King eating valuable innings out of the bullpen to preserve the rest of the pitching staff.
And Judge’s potential departure might motivate them even more to execute and play like there’s literally no tomorrow.
It sounds cheesy, it really does. But how often have teams simply waltzed to and won the World Series without adversity in recent years (except for the 2018 Boston Red Sox?). Even the cheating 2017 Astros were taken to the brink multiple times. The 2019 Nationals were 19-31 and had just lost Bryce Harper. The 2021 Atlanta Braves lost Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka and also dealt with Freddie Freeman’s contract situation. The 2016 Chicago Cubs had the pressure of the curse.
The Yankees, in the public eye, constantly have it made. They’re always in contention. They always have star players. They have the necessary resources to get what they want whenever they please. But that hasn’t been the view within the fanbase for quite some time now. And only those who have been paying attention closely enough really know how much of a difference-maker that the threat of losing a top-10 player in the game might have on the rest of the locker room.
Nobody’s saying it will make the difference, but it’s a factor at play, and you’ll be able to spot the difference throughout the year if you’re tuned in to the right moments. Why do you think Judge was given the Championship Belt on Opening Day? It’s on him.