Aaron Judge is still a Yankee. The free-agent slugger, who last year turned in one of the great offensive performances ever, reportedly re-signed with the Yankees on Wednesday for nine years and $360 million, choosing the only big-league team he’s ever played for over the Giants and the Padres. (An inadvertently comic tweet from baseball writer Jon Heyman on Tuesday night, in which he announced that Judge was going to San Francisco, turned out to be a red herring.)
Judge had turned down a much smaller offer from the Yankees in the spring, betting that he could make more in free agency. Sixty-two home runs later, that turned out to be a very wise decision: Judge made an extra $148.5 million (spread over two additional years) by waiting on a contract.
There is an extremely good chance that Judge, who will turn 31 in April and has a history of injuries, won’t be worth $40 million a year by the end of this contract. There would have been a cold, calculating logic to letting Judge leave, and in an era when every fan is an armchair general manager, Yankees fans understand the risks of this contract. They also don’t care, nor should they.
Baseball remains, at its core, a form of entertainment. And Aaron Judge is entertaining. He’s a big superhero of a player who hits the ball really, really far. Kids love him, and savvy stat-heads do, too. Judge leaving New York would have been devastating to fans, particularly ones who’ve been taught their whole lives to understand their favorite franchise through eras defined by generational talents like Ruth, Mantle, and Jeter. The Yankees biggest market advantage remains their deep pockets; to let a player like Judge go would have called into question exactly what the point is of having all that money.
There’s a baseball logic to signing him, too. As ugly as their loss to the Astros in last year’s postseason was, the Yankees were one of the final four teams standing. Winning a World Series soon is still very possible, and losing Judge would be an enormous step back. Last year, Judge had a WAR of 10.6. In layman’s terms, that means he was worth 10.6 wins to the Yankees, over what a replacement-level player would have provided. Every Judge season won’t be historically great, but a healthy Judge is the single most important piece to their championship puzzle. Without Judge, there was the potential that the Yankees, in the short term at least, would be a middling team that could struggle to even make the playoffs. With him, they can set their sights considerably higher.
In the few minutes before Heyman retracted his tweet claiming Judge was heading to San Francisco, the response on Yankees Twitter was despondent. It was a gut reaction, one that isn’t informed by cost-benefit assessments or long-term player projections, but by that romantic feeling fans still get watching their favorite players. It’s been a very long time since the Yankees developed a player like Judge, and losing him would have been a disaster.
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