Two weeks ago, this seemed poised to be one of those seasons, as Judge scuffled through a weekend series in Baltimore that made Yankee diehards start plotting how to blow it all up. Sure, the beefy right fielder was still hitting, technically, but where were the MOMENTS?
In the clutch, he was pressing. The vibe was different, in part because fans subconsciously wanted it to be, knowing the clock was now ticking until his free agency. Everyone wants the Yankees to win, sure, but if the Judge trend line was moving downwards as the offseason approached, that meant they could feel better about missing out on Years 31-38.
After all, $213 million over seven seasons was a more than reasonable offer with regression baked into the back end, wasn’t it? Think again.
Since that sleepy set in Baltimore, Judge has gone supernova, cracking seven home runs and laying waste to the Tigers, Guardians, O’s again, and Royals in a 12-part reminder of how elevated his peak really is.
Judge betting on himself and dominating accordingly was by far the best thing for the 2022 Yankees, but might force the front office to either get uncomfortable this offseason, or face the wrath of the fanbase they’ve only recently (temporarily) won back.
2023 Yankees in trouble because of Aaron Judge’s hot streak
Of course, if we learned anything from 2021-22’s offseason, it’s that the Yankees don’t respond much to fan anger when they have a plan in place. So far, the team’s decision not to bend on Corey Seager/Carlos Correa/Marcus Semien/Trevor Story seems prudent, no matter how much all-caps screaming was done on Twitter in the aftermath of all those misses.
If letting Judge walk if he can exceed $30 million AAV is something Brian Cashman unwaveringly determines is in his team’s best interest, then they won’t let his molten end of April (which ideally carries through May, June and the meaningful stretch run) affect their pursuits.
Judge’s season will have its ebbs and flows. It’s only natural to be a prisoner of the moment when he’s ricocheting missiles off the wall behind the wall behind the other wall. But Judge needed a true-talent peak early in the season to both quiet his doubters and increase his earning power, and the second half of April felt like a referendum on those who believed he could be paid commensurate with regular stardom instead of mega-stardom.
The Yankees’ offer of $213 million was not foolishly low, like some angry at Hal Steinbrenner theorized it would be. It was a “safe” long-term offer, baking in a miniature hometown discount, but nothing too extreme.
If Judge keeps performing like this and showing off all five of his tools, though, it won’t take a Mookie Betts Godfather offer to retain him, but you can easily tack $40 million more onto that baseline.
“You” meaning the Yankees, or “you” meaning a hungry team across the country wearing black and orange? At this point, tough to say.