Skip to main content

Aaron Judge’s Rejection Relegates Giants to Their Backup Plan

The Giants knew they weren’t the favorites to sign MLB’s most feared slugger. On the heels of his rejection, they must figure out a less flashy way to improve.

SAN DIEGO — Farhan Zaidi could not sleep, so as the Giants’ president of baseball operations lay awake in the early hours of Wednesday morning, he let his mind drift to a place it had spent a lot of time over the past month: trying to imagine what Aaron Judge might ultimately choose.

San Francisco had assembled a detailed package in the hopes of luring the kid who grew up two hours east of Oracle Park, rooting for Rich Aurilia’s Giants teams, back home: They flew Judge to town and met with him in person. They engaged Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry to sing the Bay Area’s praises. They sent Judge a slick recruiting video. They also reportedly offered him $360 million. Zaidi could only hope that the combination would be enough to make the giant a Giant.

“I think there's the perception you can buy this decision, but really, you're trying to sell yourself as an option,” Zaidi said.

But when Zaidi’s phone dinged shortly after 5 a.m. Pacific, his heart sank: Judge’s agents, Page Odle and David Matranga of PSI Sports, had texted him.

“I’m probably not gonna get a ‘yes’ in a 5 a.m. text,” Zaidi said.

Indeed, they told him what the rest of the world would learn only minutes later: Judge is returning to a different home, the organization that selected him with the 32nd pick of the 2013 draft, the one for which he became a star and the only one whose uniform he has ever worn and now will likely ever wear.

Aaron Judge looks on

Aaron Judge turned down a chance to play for his childhood team for the one he’s spent his entire professional career with.

The Yankees reportedly matched the Giants’ offer, signing him to a contract as gargantuan as the man himself: nine years, $360 million. That $40 million annual salary is the most ever for a position player. On the eve of the season, the team had offered him a seven-year, $213.5 million extension. He turned it down, seethed when New York GM Brian Cashman released the terms to the media … and authored the greatest walk year in the history of the sport, slugging an American League–record 62 home runs, coming within five points of batting average of the Triple Crown, and capturing the AL MVP award.

The Giants always saw themselves as the underdog in this fight. The Yankees legacy is a lot to give up.

“Teammates, people in the Yankees organization, they all talk about the character and part of that is loyalty—to the organization he’s been with, to fans, to teammates,” Zaidi said. “And so part of what we really liked and valued about him was something that was probably gonna create this draw to stay with people he’s been with over the years.”

The Giants never really felt confident, Zaidi said, even when a report on Tuesday afternoon said that Judge “appear[ed] headed” to the Giants. (The report was later retracted.) A two-team race added a third contestant on Tuesday night when the Padres, spurned by shortstop Trea Turner, decided to redirect the $342 million they had offered him. They flew Judge to San Diego, and he met with them Tuesday night at Petco Park; by morning, before the team had even made a formal offer, GM A.J. Preller received his own text: Just wanted you to hear it from us—Aaron is re-signing with the Yankees.

From a fan-relations standpoint, the Yankees needed Judge more than any other team; the organization’s title drought has reached 13 seasons, and Judge is its most popular active player by any metric. But San Francisco might have been second, especially after momentum picked up and fans began imagining No. 99 patrolling right field at Oracle Park. Zaidi has faced skepticism ever since he replaced longtime executive Brian Sabean, who won three titles, in 2018: Zaidi was tasked with rebuilding an expensive, aging roster, and he lacked any emotional attachment to such faces of the franchise as lefty Madison Bumgarner, whom he allowed to leave in free agency after ’20. Zaidi trimmed payroll from $206 million (second in baseball) in ’18 to $156 million (12th) last year.

San Francisco Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi

Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will have to pivot to a backup plan to upgrade his third-place team.

The club staggered through two third-place seasons, finishing a combined 43 games under .500, before charging to a franchise-record 107 games in 2021. Then it regressed to .500—third place again, out of even the expanded playoffs—in ’22. And reinforcements have been slow in coming: Under Zaidi, the team has not signed a free agent to a deal of more than three years or more than $44 million. But the front office has insisted the window of contention—and of spending—is open.

“From a financial standpoint,” Zaidi said last month as free agency kicked off, “There’s nobody that would be sort of out of our capability to meet what we expect the contract demands will be.”

He meant that the team could afford to sign Judge and still add pieces around him. Now the Giants are left to sift through those pieces. They could—and probably should—pivot to one of the remaining free-agent shortstops, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts or Dansby Swanson. (San Francisco’s top prospect, shortstop Marcelo Luciano, will almost certainly have to move to third base or right field.) The Giants signed franchise icon Brandon Crawford to a two-year extension in 2021, and he is thought to be very reluctant to move off the position, but he will play this season at 36, and San Francisco cannot really afford to wait a year: As of now, the jewel of next offseason’s free agent class is probably Amed Rosario, who had a .715 OPS this year.

“I think we have good relationships with a lot of agencies and I think they're sensitive to not giving off the ambulance chaser vibe,” Zaidi said, laughing. “So people reached out to us today, but it was kind of a continuation of conversations that we already had.” He added, “We always knew this was a possible outcome.”

Zaidi is scheduled to return to San Francisco on Wednesday night. He said he thought the free-agency and trade markets might quiet briefly as executives and agents flew home from the winter meetings, but they could resume in earnest as soon as Thursday. He will be busy when they do. In the meantime, he will try to get some sleep.