Aaron Judge is the Yankees' captain and, typically, whatever he says goes. Unless he's recommending a Blake Snell signing -- that guy just will not budge off $200 million.
Unfortunately, Judge's smiling confidence might've gotten him and the Yankees in hot water at his All Rise Gala on Thursday night.
A healthy contingent of teammates and ex-teammates came out to support Judge, the glue that has held the Yankees locker room together for the past half-decade. Among them was his manager Aaron Boone, who lobbed a question Judge's way during the Q&A portion of the evening.
Part of Judge's role as captain is to make sure his teammates are as comfortable and locked in as possible, especially if those teammates happen to be entering a walk year ahead of a potential $600 million extension. This season, keeping Juan Soto productive and satisfied will be the undercurrent motivation, just below "winning at all costs" on the depth chart. Luckily, a happy Soto will probably be conducive to winning; he should be treated in whatever way gets the most out of him. Traditionally, Soto has performed best batting third (.288, 73 bombs), and has had an aversion to hitting second in the order (.254 in 216 games). Considering Judge typically bats second, this feels like a non-problem that doesn't need solving.
And yet ... on Thursday night, Judge blurted out confidently that he wanted to "keep it DJ, Soto, me" in the 2024 lineup, popping Soto directly where he's historically detested to be. If Judge and Soto already discussed this and came to the conclusion that the Yankees' newest import should bat second, then they might want to take a second look at years of data. If they didn't discuss this and Judge just spit it out? Woof.
Yankees slugger Aaron Judge wants to hit behind Juan Soto. Does Juan Soto want that, though?
Also ... we sure about DJ LeMahieu leading off? You're right, you're right, not important right now.
While it's true that Soto has "never had someone like Judge" hitting behind him before, he was strategically placed ahead of Fernando Tatis Jr. last year in San Diego and almost fouled up his whole season hitting second in the order. As Ken Rosenthal wrote in mid-April when the switch was being pondered, "Juan Soto prefers hitting third, his position in the Padres’ batting order the last nine games."
"Soto, though, said he is most comfortable batting in positions where he can best drive in runs, anywhere from third to fifth. He also can produce runs from the two hole, which is home to some of the game’s biggest stars, including Aaron Judge, Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman. But Soto believes the primary responsibility of a No. 2 hitter is more to move runners over."- Ken Rosenthal
Does Judge have an aversion to the two-hole? If so, he's never shown it before, willingly hitting in that spot in 529 games while going yard 173 times, representing two-thirds of his career home run total.
Soto's comfort should not supersede winning in the Yankees' hierarchy of needs. Luckily for the Yankees, though, the two things have typically gone hand-in-hand, and for the Yankees to neglect this clear connection entering a massive year seems negligent at best.
Hopefully, Judge spends some additional time workshopping this thought before spring training. But even stating it out loud in January feels like an unforced error.