Aaron Judge leaving Yankees in offseason now feels more real than ever

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 31: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees at bat against the Kansas City Royals during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium on July 31, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Royals won 8-6. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 31: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees at bat against the Kansas City Royals during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium on July 31, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Royals won 8-6. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images) /

The sky is falling in the Bronx … even though the New York Yankees still have the best record in the American League. Call Yankees fans whiny and never satisfied, but when your team fumbles the bag with one minute left until the trade deadline and immediately loses five straight, then come talk to us.

And now, just to pile on, let’s talk about Aaron Judge, who’s a free agent after this season. What’s this man’s incentive to stay?

Since the end of the 2017 season, the Yankees have been more of a hotbed for embarrassment than success. If Judge’s repeated pleas to remain in New York weren’t clear enough for the front office to understand, then what reason does he have to continue exhausting himself to get that message across?

All the Yankees have proven over these last few years is that they indeed run a business and do not care about their players. Blindsiding Jordan Montgomery with a last-second trade at the deadline epitomizes that.

Any idea how that might make Judge feel? Though the Yankees still have 70 wins and remain in a good spot to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs, their recent slip-up post-deadline against the Mariners and Cardinals brings up the trauma of 2020 and 2021, which simply can’t have Judge feeling like this is his “home.”

Will Aaron Judge leave the Yankees as he gets a taste of this incompetence?

If the Yankees aren’t willing to offer the money Judge (now rightfully) wants amid his MVP campaign, then why should he stay? He’s gotten a firsthand look at how this team’s “puzzle” constantly gets busted whenever one of the pieces goes missing.

The only way the Yankees can be a formidable, above .500 team is if every element is going right for them. As we saw during their blistering 49-16 run. Since then, they are 21-23 because they’ve been unable to deal with various things not going their way. This wouldn’t be a problem unless the Yankees, in previous, recent years, have proven they can beat the odds … but you’ve seen it all unravel before, haven’t you?

The starting rotation and bullpen regressed after near-flawless starts and were then hit with some injuries (Luis Severino, Michael King). Giancarlo Stanton hitting the IL has made this a completely different lineup. Look across the league at other elite teams who lose valuable production. They don’t nosedive like this while their MVP carries the load over and over (unless it’s the Angels). Aaron Judge is the Yankees right now, and it is not going well.

For example, the Houston Astros. They lost Justin Verlander for all of 2020 and all of 2021. They still made the ALCS and World Series. This year, they’ve been without Lance McCullers and have lost Michael Brantley for nearly half the season. They let Carlos Correa go and maybe got … better? One of their biggest weaknesses over the last few years has been their bullpen, which they’ve now upgraded to the best in MLB (league-leading 2.68 ERA). They continue to make picture-perfect trade deadline acquisitions to supplement their postseason runs. They’re now a half-game behind New York when, once upon a time, it appeared the Yankees would be running away with the best record in baseball.

The Yankees, meanwhile? Gerrit Cole, the man making Judge’s (reported) desired salary, is hardly pulling his weight. The loss of Severino has put the rotation further in flux, and the Yankees angered him by not communicating that he’d be placed on the 60-day IL. Montgomery’s loss has been spoken of enough — this front office lacks and any all “human elements.” The Yankees had over a week to either replace King or figure out a more structured bullpen solution to absorb the blow … but they haven’t, and the unit looks worse than ever. They refused to acquire a real shortstop and won’t call up one of the top prospects capable of potentially making an impact at the position.

The trade deadline acquisitions? Once again, not enough. They are never enough. The Yankees always need to see their plan through and minimize as much risk as humanly possible while failing to ever realize that “going for it” might just be the only choice they have.

Instead, Judge remains the most important piece of the Yankees’ puzzle and he somehow has to watch less influential pieces get removed from the equation as the team falls apart in spurts without even a patchwork solution, let alone a steadfast one.

So, remind us, what reason does he have to want to remain a Yankee for life if this bad stretch of play and dismal, repetitive narrative — which has now characterized the Yankees for over four years — continues before the page flips to a new chapter?