The Aaron Judge chase has always felt like a three-horse race between the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees, no matter how confident Hal Steinbrenner was earlier in the week that he’d be able to outbid the competition.
One of those competitors just cleared a theoretical ~$20 million off their payroll on Friday evening, slicing a struggling player from their roster who just so happens to play one of the positions Judge manned in 2022. Surely, that’s nothing but a coincidence.
The Yankees had a few contract decisions to make on Friday, too, but mostly chose the status quo. They tendered a contract to Isiah Kiner-Falefa that came in a half-million below most projections. They offered one to reliever Lou Trivino, too, agreeing to avoid arbitration and pay him $4.1 million for his services. No major shakeups. No earth-shattering team chemistry bombs. Just business as usual, with a ticking clock involved.
The Dodgers? They announced to any doubters that they had every intention of entering 2023’s offseason with a center field vacancy.
Reversing course from their sentiments a few weeks prior, LA non-tendered Cody Bellinger, paving the road for 1,000 Judge-Dodgers takes yet to come.
Dodgers join Aaron Judge rumors after Cody Bellinger non-tender
Now, saying Judge could replace Bellinger is like saying Carlos Correa might make sense as an alternative to IKF. The 2019 NL MVP has been one of the worst players in baseball since that season, hitting new lows in a 2021 campaign where he subtracted 1.0 WAR from the Dodgers by hitting .165. If the Dodgers want Judge — and it’s always seemed as if they did — losing Bellinger isn’t the sole factor motivating that pursuit.
The Dodgers built a contender around a phenomenal farm system supplemented by splurges during the Andrew Friedman Era. In recent years, though, that sustainable system has mostly been used to churn through trade packages, as other teams’ superstars from Mookie Betts to Max Scherzer to Trea Turner to Freddie Freeman to Tr***r Ba**r have redefined the Dodgers’ ethos.
Judge makes all the sense in the world as the next in line for the throne, and certainly signaled on Thursday night at the MVP after show that annual contention is important to him in choosing his next destination. He also has every intention of going through the free agency process in its entirety.
The Dodgers’ interest, in some capacity, has never been a secret. On Friday, their pursuit began in earnest. It’s up to Steinbrenner and the Yankees to fulfill their promise and refuse to be outbid, now that the pressure’s been ratcheted up by MLB’s top spender.