New York Yankees superstar/center of the world Aaron Judge has a very difficult decision to make over the next few weeks: continue building a legacy in the City That Never Sleeps, likely with the added pressure of the captaincy, or return home to San Francisco to help a hometown team return to its championship peak?
Money won’t be the only factor, but it will likely be at the forefront of all conversations — and, with his 2022 performance, Judge has earned the right to let financial windfall dictate his future employment.
On the surface, that is what Robinson Canó did back in 2013-14, when he signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees — at least, in the eyes of the public — barely engaged.
Canó only spent five of those 10 years in Seattle, suspended 80 games for a failed PED test during the 2018 season before he was shipped off to the Mets (and, eventually, suspended again). That decade-long deal has long been thought of as a mistake the Yankees avoided, in stark opposition to the consensus that the team had blown it when they let him walk.
On the precipice of 2023, the Yankees are technically in a similar contract conundrum with Judge, leading YES Network’s Jack Curry to hypothetically ask the camera (posing as Judge) whether he’d prefer to be “Derek Jeter or Robinson Canó”. With all due respect to Curry, the Yankees have better sales pitches to Judge, a leader on a far better Yankees team than Canó’s 2013 Bombers, and someone who is the type of centerpiece that the second baseman never was.
Besides, “being Robinson Canó” was a fate even unique to Cano, filled with extenuating circumstances.
Aaron Judge’s Yankees path is more complex than, “Derek Jeter or Robinson Canó?”
A comparison to Canó only feels harsh in retrospect; at the time of his departure, he was the first homegrown Yankees talent to hold the line and depart for more money elsewhere in quite a while. The move was thought of as good business by the All-Star second baseman, and odd business by the Yankees, who did spend that offseason on a wide swath of veterans who weren’t Canó (Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltrán, and eventually Masahiro Tanaka).
Now, “Robinson Canó” has become a bit of a derogatory baseball term. Ignoring all the modern implications, Canó, at the time he left New York, was a certified star, and the upset pick for “best player on the team” during the 2006 season and again between 2009-2012, an era still dominated by Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Mariano Rivera, and the remnants of the Core. Canó was a phenomenal hitter — but he wasn’t Jeter. He wasn’t front and center. He wasn’t the Jenga piece who everyone knew would sink the Yankees if he ever left.
He wasn’t fated to be Captain someday.
Canó’s 2013 Yankees faced a significant talent deficit. With Jeter now hobbled, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira injured, Matsui and Posada gone, and Rivera headed for retirement, his first season absorbing more of the spotlight was a forgettable one in the annals of history. During Canó’s free agency period, him staying or leaving wasn’t seen as the determining factor in the Yankees’ contention window remaining open.
Judge? He’s the center of everything. While the decision rests on his shoulders, the Yankees also know they might not be able to recover from losing him. Conversely, the Yankees absolutely could’ve weathered the Canó storm, considering the roster had already mostly clattered down around them.
When Canó turned himself into a dirty word, he was leaving a Yankees team in shambles for a brighter payday than they could provide. He didn’t have to worry about “wrecking his Yankees legacy,” for his Yankees legacy was mostly as one of many puzzle pieces running alongside the agreed-upon captains and icons.
If Judge leaves, he will be doing what he believes is best for his family, friends, and baseball future. If Judge stays, it will be because the now-famously-measured Yankees will have decided he shouldn’t just return, but should be the center of it all for the remainder of his prime. All the pressure in the world will be heaped upon his shoulders, after a month-long break from the heaping.
But that doesn’t mean Judge has to choose between being Jeter and Canó. He has to choose between being Judge here, or Judge there. He will be the focal point, no matter where he lands, and the Yankees are better equipped to handle a legacy like his than they were in 2013, when Canó’s Best Supporting Actor trophy was the only thing on the line.