Will Aaron Judge leave the Yankees in free agency this offseason?
And if he does, which teams will pursue him?
ESPN's Buster Olney attempted to answer those questions in an article on Wednesday, listing seven different clubs as possible landing spots for Judge if he decides to depart from New York this winter.
Among the seven franchises listed, a few stand out above the rest.
Here's some analysis from Olney attached to these teams that might have the interest and resources to target Judge if he does test the open market...
San Francisco Giants
Farhan Zaidi's tenure as head of baseball operations for San Francisco has been highlighted by his payroll management. As Buster Posey and the other core stars of the championship seasons have moved on, the Giants have gradually reduced their payroll and long-term obligations, so much so that the franchise has only one player under contract for 2024: pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, who is owed $12 million for that year. The Giants have the wherewithal, in financial power and flexibility, to outbid all other teams for Judge or any other player.
Judge went to high school less than 100 miles from the Giants' Oracle Park, and maybe this will be a lure for him. It's also possible that the high taxes in his home state could be a factor in his negotiations. Just as Barry Bonds once inspired a mountain of ticket sales in San Francisco, the Giants' leadership is undoubtedly well aware that Judge possesses the sort of star power to fill seats for a generation.
New York Mets
[Steve] Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler have other priorities going into this offseason. There remains an industry perception that another industry star, the Brewers' president of baseball operations, David Stearns, could be headed to Queens to join the Mets. Resources might be needed to retain Jacob deGrom, lock up Pete Alonso to a long-term deal and address roster shortcomings.
Still, if Cohen wants the player, he could get the player -- and at the very least, he could drive up the price for the Yankees or some other team by being the unpredictable wild card in the bidding.
"I would not rule Cohen out of anything," a rival evaluator said, "especially if he gets close this year and doesn't win it."
Boston Red Sox
This is a franchise that traded Mookie Betts, stunned Xander Bogaerts with a shockingly light extension offer and apparently has made few inroads on a long-term deal with Rafael Devers.
So why might Boston owner John Henry get involved with Judge?
Because he's responsible for the trade of Betts; greenlighted the offer to Bogaerts; and hasn't locked up Devers. There is unrest among Red Sox fans, many of whom have become convinced their team has become allergic to spending big money. The signing of Judge would change that narrative, rip the Yankees' best position player out of their lineup, and get Red Sox fans turning out early to watch Judge put divots in the aluminum siding that protects the Green Monster.
Olney also listed the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels, although they seem less likely for financial reasons (along with competitiveness or the size of the market).
Before Judge can sign with any of these teams, he'll have to enter free agency. As much as the slugger has made it clear that he won't discuss a contract extension with New York until after the season—he turned down a $213.5 million offer before Opening Day—his next hurdle is an arbitration hearing with the Yankees this week. That's scheduled to take place on Friday, deciding his salary for the 2022 season.
Beyond that, you have to figure the Yankees are itching to keep him around. It's hard to quantify just how valuable the outfielder is to the Yankees (both on and off the field).
Judge is on a rampage this season, leading the league with 25 home runs while lifting this club to one of their best starts in franchise history. Concerns about his ability to stay on the field have dissipated over the last few years as well—Judge hasn't been on the injured list with a non-COVID injury since the pandemic-shortened season in 2020.
Then again, Judge is on the other side of 30 and with his performance this year, it'll take a lot more than $213.5 million to keep him in the Bronx. Are the Yankees willing to dig deeper into their pockets to keep their captain-like leader around and pay him until he's late in his 30s?
Olney finished his story with this quote from a rival executive, words that may resonate with Judge as he ponders his future:
"If [Judge] signs with another team, it'd be like Alex Rodriguez going [from Seattle] to Texas. He'd disappear. No matter where it is, he wouldn't have the same impact [on the baseball landscape] than he would if he just stayed with the Yankees. If he stays with the Yankees, he'll be the next [Derek] Jeter -- they'd probably make him captain, and he'll make twice as much money in endorsements than anywhere else."
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