The second Aaron Judge was pulled with a grimace from Thursday night's game against the Texas Rangers, you could hear the Take Cannons preparing to fire. "This? THIS is what we paid $360 million for?! A GUY with a HIP?!?"
No. We paid $360 million because the world without Judge is a dark and scary place. We paid $360 million because the lineup is a wasteland without him, and no one -- no free agent acquired for less money in his stead, no internal option -- can possibly replicate his production.
We paid $360 million -- well, actually, we didn't. Hal Steinbrenner did after begging Brian Cashman to up his offer. That's the scariest part of all.
Cashman, outfoxed, seemed content to pick up the pieces and try to recreate Judge in the aggregate. Either that, or do nothing and bank on a few accidental breakouts. And while the Yankees' depth remains a massive, glaring, unceasing issue, paying the reigning American League MVP was part of the solution, not the problem.
The issue isn't that they shelled out a large sum of money for Judge's 30s and made him team captain. The issue is they couldn't find room in their budget to go beyond him and couldn't properly scout talent at the margins to flesh out this roster with potential contributors. Hopefully, this bleak week without Judge will be a reminder to reticent fans that his production is worth the nicks and bruises, and a reminder to the front office that they didn't come close to going far enough last offseason.
Yankees Aaron Judge mega-deal was far from a mistake
This offseason, Josh Donaldson's chunky and unnecessary salary comes off the Yankees' books, clearing nearly $30 million effortlessly. Isiah Kiner-Falefa's $6.5 million will be gone, too. Odds are both Frankie Montas and Luis Severino will find refuge elsewhere. There will be room to maneuver, despite Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole occupying the team's long-term payroll.
The very fun chirps from Red Sox, Rays and Jays fans began the second Judge signed on the dotted line, as soon as they pivoted from "troll for failure" mode to "troll for success" mode. "Wow. Enjoy signing him for his inevitable decline. Wouldn't you rather rebuild with that cash?"
What those trolls were missing, of course, was that Brian Cashman, with a job for life, didn't seem prepared to pivot offensively in Judge's wake. What was the "fearsome" alternative? A breaking-down Carlos Correa? The choice wasn't between Judge and A GM's Dream. It was between Judge and a Grand Wasteland. The Yankees didn't have a wide swath of options in front of them. They'd already cut themselves off at the pass one season prior when they imported Donaldson.
Next offseason, with Judge in place, the Yankees should be able to add significant offensive talent, even if they still can't bring themselves to pass the next tax threshold. They'll be starting from a significantly stronger place with a 60-homer threat locked down as a clubhouse leader than they would be without him.
If Cashman fails next offseason -- and he very well might -- it will have nothing to do with the burden of Judge. It will be his own hubris to blame. And the future will look brighter, no matter what, because Judge is in it.