The Yankees need to make sweeping changes in 2024 if they want to reopen their contention window and avoid wasting the primes of Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole, something they're well on their way to doing. Judge made it very clear in the wake of Sunday's official playoff elimination that he has plenty of ideas, and can't wait to get in a room with the Yankees' brass and get to work on implementing his vision.
That's where things get tough. Will Judge be able to think like an executive? Will he be ruthless in dismissing some of his lifelong friends and beloved teammates for the greater good? Or will he simply give his input on coaches and free agency maneuvers, ducking out of the room when it comes time to render judgment (no pun intended) on the men he shares a locker room with?
Kyle Higashioka, a long-time Judge ride-or-die, will likely be non-tendered this offseason to make room for Jose Trevino, Austin Wells and Ben Rortvedt to share a catchers' room. That necessary, but difficult, move probably isn't on Judge's wishlist, so he won't go down as the one who banged the gavel, but nonetheless, it's a fairly important portion of the offseason.
And then there's the even tougher elephant in the room: Giancarlo Stanton. The best version of the 2024 Yankees probably doesn't have Stanton on the roster. It will be extremely costly to move on from him this offseason, and a trade still feels like an impossibility. If Judge excuses himself from those conversations, the Yankees probably won't be compelled to eat nearly $90 million to rid themselves of Stanton four years early.
But if Judge drives the bus and requests Stanton's ouster? Then they might have no choice but to swallow their pride, grab their checkbook, and find a way to make it happen.
Max Goodman of NJ.com spoke about this possible change in his postmortem of Judge's post-elimination press conference, and where Judge lands on his longtime partner in crime could dictate the direction of the Yankees' chaotic offseason.
Yankees won't get rid of Giancarlo Stanton ... unless ... Aaron Judge tells them to.
As Goodman writes on the potential of Judge vs. Stanton Round 1:
"Speaking of which, would Judge be an advocate for the Yankees to move on from Giancarlo Stanton? With the way Stanton has played this year, by far the worst season of the once-lethal slugger’s career, it would not be in the Yankees’ best interest to keep him around for the rest of his contract … even with the financial implications of moving on from the designated hitter."- Max Goodman, NJ.com
In order for the Yankees to actually make the startling move that makes sense on paper, but not in practice, Judge would probably have to be the driving force behind the decision.
There's certainly a world where the Yankees keep Stanton and platoon him (he's hit lefties quite well, posting a .956 OPS and .269 average in 73 plate appearances). There's absolutely a version of the 2024 season where the Yankees play Stanton in the outfield from Opening Day, knowing cynically that his body wouldn't hold up under such rigors and he'd quickly be sent to the IL (bleak, but true!).
And, of course, there's the world where Judge leads the charge, finally lending credence far too late to the rumors that the pair "couldn't coexist" from way back in 2018.
The Yankees need to move on from Stanton before the end of his contract. If money wasn't an obstacle, that time could certainly be the present, and, historically, involving Judge has been the easiest way to remove money as an obstacle in Hal Steinbrenner's eyes.