3 dark horse teams that can steal Aaron Judge from Yankees

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Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves (Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)
Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves (Photo by Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images) /

2. Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos has built a contender for the next decade. He’s signed Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider through at least 2026. Vaughn Grissom, Kyle Wright and William Contreras are under club control for a while, too.

Isn’t there a world where the Braves shift Acuña to left field (or trade him) to make room for a massive Judge deal? Then rotate the DH with those two and Marcell Ozuna? There’s also the issue of re-signing Dansby Swanson. If the Braves do that, then maybe it’ll be harder for them to bring Judge into the fold.

As of right now, Atlanta has $195 million committed to the 2023 payroll, which will drop a few million if they non-tender anybody or if Jake Odorizzi opts out of his contract. Let’s call it $190 million. Swanson’s going to cost at least $20 million per year. Judge will be in the $35-40 million range. One of those guys can easily fit into this picture.

If Swanson goes, Grissom takes over at short. Judge replaces Swanson’s impact and the Braves arguably get better. But what about both?

The Braves had the fourth-highest attendance of any team in MLB this season (they averaged 38,600 fans per game and had over three million fans walk through the gates at Truist Park). That’s only behind the Dodgers, Cardinals and Yankees — with both LA and New York consistently being in the $240 million payroll range year after year.

What if the Braves went all in, signed both, and leaped the luxury tax threshold for the first time? They’d pay an extra few million in taxes in 2023 and 2024, but by 2025 guys like Charlie Morton ($20 million), Ozuna ($18 million), Travis d’Arnaud ($8 million), Eddie Rosario ($9 million), Collin McHugh ($6 million) and others will fully be off the books (some might be gone after 2024, too).

That’ll allow the Braves to exercise some caution as the tax bills pile up, and they might be able to reset with seven core players. Don’t put it past Anthopoulos, all we’re sayin’.