The case for resetting the Yankees roster if Aaron Judge goes

The case for resetting the Yankees roster if Aaron Judge goes

The Yankees wished to limit their offer to Gerrit Cole to a maximum of eight years. They could have stayed put and hoped the Orange County, California-born right-hander wouldn’t sign with the questionable Angels or take a Dodgers offer riddled with deferrals.

But Hal Steinbrenner really desired an ace, seeing it to be a necessary component for a championship team. In lieu of attempting to determine if a bluff was being perpetrated, he authorized a sentence of nine years. He understood that, together with the highest annual value ever ($36 million), would seal the sale.

I suspect Steinbrenner feels the same way with the retention of Aaron Judge. If he must, for instance, add a year to an offer to retain his star, he will do so.

Consequently, I believe there are only two methods to pry Judge away from the Yankees:

He truly does not wish to return. In essence, this would imply that the allure of being a lifelong Yankee has diminished — and did so even more so when Judge blasted 62 home runs during the regular season but was jeered when he failed in the playoffs.

A team makes an offer that the Yankees believe would be reckless for them to match or surpass. What if, for instance, a suitor offered Judge a 10-year contract for $400 million? Is there a cash amount or number of years that, understanding the consequences of releasing Judge, even Steinbrenner would find insurmountable?

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner
Jason Szenes

In all scenarios, the Giants appear to be the greatest threat. Where might Judge develop an attachment that would make his departure from the Yankees tolerable? What about the team he cheered for as a child in Northern California? Especially if the Giants also lavish Judge with record-breaking sums of money.

And the Giants have perhaps more motive than any other team to make an outrageous deal.

Their 2022 home attendance of 2.48 million was the lowest for a season not affected by COVID since 1999. In contrast, attendance increased for five consecutive years and surpassed three million for the first time in club history in 2000. Even discounting the COVID-affected 2020 and 2021 seasons, this year marks the Giants’ fifth consecutive year of a loss in attendance, and a decrease of approximately 900,000 spectators from 2016.

The addition of Judge would very probably increase season ticket sales and ticket purchases in general. In addition, the Giants have committed only $18.5 million to players in 2024. They could pay Judge, for example, $40 million every season and continue to be quite extravagant. They are one of the few large-market clubs with such little future assured income. In contrast, the Yankees have five players under contract for $109.5 million in 2024. Obviously, they can accommodate Judge at virtually any price, but depending on Steinbrenner’s salary tolerance, they would have much less flexibility elsewhere.

In order to pursue Aaron Judge in free agency, the Giants have the financial freedom and the drive to reverse a downturn in attendance.
Getty Pictures

I still believe the Yankees will keep Judge. As with Cole, Steinbrenner ultimately believes Judge too important to the near-term success of his team, both on and off the field, and he does not wish to aggravate his relationship with a fan base that dislikes him.

Plan B is necessary, though, because there are no guarantees and the Giants are, at the very least, a formidable adversary.

For these purposes, let’s revisit the offseason of 2013-14. That was the last time the Yankees had an in-house free agent star. It is not a fair comparison. Robinson Cano was not as popular or important to the Yankees’ off-field operations as Judge is. However, one might argue that he was more important to the Yankees’ offense in 2013 than Judge was in 2022. Cano led the club in RBIs that season with 107, while Overbay was second with 59. Cano finished fifth in the AL MVP vote, his fourth consecutive year in the top six. Due to the injuries of Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, Cano was surrounded by players like as Travis Hafner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Vernon Wells.

The Yankees proposed seven years and $175 million to Cano. The Yankees stated that the proposal was intended to retain their second baseman, as opposed to being only significant enough to show their supporters that they tried, but insufficient to retain Cano. It was not even close to the $240 million over 10 years that he was granted by the Mariners, whose attendance had dropped significantly as a non-contender. The Yankees believed that to be excessively much for Cano.

2013 was Robinson Cano’s final season with the Yankees.

The subsequent backlash against Steinbrenner was likewise tremendous. He aimed to bring the Yankees under the luxury tax threshold (then $189 million) in order to reset the tax for the future. Steinbrenner approved a $458 million spending binge to acquire Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka, despite concerns that he lacked his father’s competitive drive.

Tanaka was successful, Beltran was adequate, McCann fell short of expectations, and Ellsbury was a failure.

What then occurs if Judge leaves? Does Steinbrenner reply to the outcry of “cheap” and “not your father” by allowing another huge expenditure? Or does the widespread failure of this tactic post-Cano necessitate a change in direction?

It should be emphasized that after Cano’s departure, the Yankees’ farm system became the center of their next significant challenger. The Yankees had three first-round selections in June 2013 due to compensation picks they earned for losing Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher to free agency. They selected Eric Jagielo 26th overall, Judge 32nd, and Ian Clarkin 33rd. Prior to the 2014 season, Baseball America ranked these three as the fifth through seventh best Yankees prospects. Before suffering diabetes, getting struck in the face, and fracturing a bone near his eye during instructional league, even inside the Yankees organization, Jagielo was considered the greater prospect than Judge.

Gary Sanchez was the consensus No. 1 prospect for the Yankees. Greg Bird and Luis Severino were among the top ten players. Miguel Andujar was gaining recognition. And the Yankees continued to have faith in Dellin Betances.

Gary Sanchez (right) led the latest Yankees youth movement, but the albatross deal of Jacoby Ellsbury (left) remained on the books.

Could it be argued that, in the grand scheme of things, the Yankees would have been better off not engaging in that free-agent spending binge and instead allowing their farm system to develop while filling up their major league roster with the finest short-term deals?

I would argue that they are in a better position to do so today than they were previously.

Okay, before anyone accuses me of attempting to save Steinbrenner’s money, I am not arguing that the Yankees will not compete in 2023. At a minimum, they should invest all funds up to the first tax level ($233 million) to establish a competitive team.

Why are the Yankees in a better position now than when 2014 began?

The number of postseason berths has increased from five to six, and as the 87-win, sixth-seed Phillies shown in 2022, it is possible to make a deep playoff run.

In addition, the Yankees’ top prospects are far closer to making an impact today than they were previously. Betances went from an injury-prone and fading prospect to a revelation in 2014, and the Yankees used Shane Greene, a pleasant surprise, to acquire Didi Gregorius following that season. However, the others will occur in the not-too-distant future.

Michael Volpe

Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza, and Anthony Volpe may be eligible to participate in 2023’s opening game. Before the conclusion of the next season, Jasson Dominguez, Everson Pereira, and Austin Wells may be available. The Yankees have not performed well in developing prospects, particularly hitters. The last time they had comparable prospects, Andujar, Bird, Sanchez, and Jackson (Clint) Frazier (who was acquired in a trade) all withered after promising starts. Judge and Gleyber Torres (another potential purchased) emerged.

However, 2023 would be a time to maybe let the children play and develop a better plan for the future. Whether it works or fails, the Yankees will be in position to compete for Manny Machado and Shohei Ohtani after the season (once they are free of Josh Donaldson’s deal and a year closer to doing so with Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton). I believe that Machado’s opt-out clause after the 2023 season is one of the most significant baseball topics now receiving little attention that will gain prominence over time. After his 30th season, he will have five years and $150 million remaining on his contract. If that year resembles 2022, in which he placed second for NL MVP, Machado will be able to significantly surpass $150 million on the market.

Can the Yankees compete with this strategy? Sure. After Judge, the strength of the 2022 squad was their run prevention. And you might argue that the defense will be even stronger in 2023 with Harrison Bader in center field and Peraza at shortstop for the entire season. Cole, Severino, and Nestor Cortes constitute a good top three in the rotation, and if Frankie Montas were healthy, that would be a formidable top four. If Michael King recovers from his injury, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Wandy Peralta will form a formidable bullpen quartet.

Moreover, the Yankees do not need to stop here. They could replicate the 2013-14 summer by, for example, signing Trea Turner to play shortstop and Carlos Rodon to bolster the rotation, then trading for Peraza and/or Torres to address pitching and/or left field.

Manny Machado may become a free agent following the 2023 campaign.

But what if the Yankees took a different route? Say they spend their money on getting one-year contracts for Bader’s flankers Cody Bellinger and Michael Conforto. That would at the very least keep the defense strong. And can the Yankees resurrect those left-handed hitters to join Stanton, Anthony Rizzo, and maybe Torres and/or the prospects in delivering an offense with power (but not Judge-like power) and more overall athleticism?

Do they want to sign Rodon or Kodai Senga to a multiyear deal in an effort to strengthen the rotation and run prevention? The Yankees’ organizational strength has been discovering and/or developing bullpen arms. Is this the spot to win a two-year bidding battle for left-handed pitcher Andrew Chafin or right-handed pitcher Chris Martin? Again, Steinbrenner’s salary should exceed $200 million, and the aim should be to make the playoffs in 2023 while positioning the team for long-term competition.

Remember that if the Yankees are in the playoff hunt in July, they can always add to their roster or, in the alternative, deal away assets to bolster their farm system for the 2024 season. This is not a call to construct anew.

And I believe there is one more reason for the Yankees to contemplate a reset in 2023, although fans may want to stop reading here. Because this pertains to you.

I believe it is absurd for the players to be worried by the boos at home. Every fanbase, with the possible exception of St. Louis, boos unsatisfactory performances. Is the volume in New York louder? Sure. But I believe this is mostly the result of a generation (both players and their talkative families) that cannot avoid social media and, as a result, feels the wrath 24 hours a day, not just at the ballpark.

Cody Bellinger became a free agent outfielder when the Dodgers did not extend him a contract.

I also believe that Yankees supporters have become more hostile than ever toward the home team, from ownership to the playing field. Really, the booing of Judge in October resembled an out-of-control mob mentality, as if it were now the popular thing to do.

Is this due to the fact that the Yankees have not won a title since 2009? Is it heightened by the inability to surpass the despised Astros or by the rival Red Sox’s four championships this century? Possibly all of the above.

I realize I will never persuade a particular type of Yankees fan to embrace the continual presence of stars and annual competition. Because the alternative is truly awful – when seasons end in the middle of the year.

I believe there is a sizeable section of Yankees supporters that are also Giants football fans (especially the older ones). Would you rather be the Yankees and be a perennial contender, make the playoffs in 10 of 13 seasons since their last championship, and compete for the pennant five times? Or the Giants, who have made the playoffs twice in 12 seasons (not including this season) and ended below.500 in eight of those seasons, but have won one championship? Is a single championship worth years of total non-contention and insignificant games? Maybe.

Next season, Oswald Peraza is arguably the Yankees’ best defensive option at shortstop.

If it’s even feasible, I believe the Yankees must improve their connection with their supporters. Nothing accomplishes this like a pleasant surprise. And if the Yankees do not keep Judge, the franchise will have the opportunity to reestablish a positive atmosphere in The Bronx with young, local players (always something fans want). In 2017, the Judge-Sanchez-Severino Yankees made an unexpected run to ALCS Game 7 in a season that was supposed to be a reset.

I have realized that there is no such thing as sufficient expenditure to please the people. I was astounded by how many Mets fans, for example, told me that minor movements at the trade deadline reminded them of the Wilpons. Really? Under Steve Cohen, the team had a payroll of nearly $300 million after negotiating a $341 million deal for Francisco Lindor before the 2021 season and awarding Max Scherzer the largest annual contract in history by more than $7 million before the 2022 season. Would there ever be enough money spent and star contracts signed?

I believe the Yankees will ultimately retain Judge. If they do not retain Judge, I believe Steinbrenner will demonstrate his intent by expanding elsewhere. I doubt that the second approach would be the correct one. And I am not referring to what is best for Steinbrenner’s bank account. I will discuss the best way to sustain high-level conflict for an extended period of time.


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