This very well could be the best contract year anyone has ever performed. Aaron Judge set the American League home run record, breaking Roger Maris’ 61 set 50 years ago, and will now become a free-agency player at year’s end.
The New York Yankees, Judge’s current team, have good odds to win World Series. They went 99-63 during the regular season, the fifth-best record in Major League Baseball, and won their division to make the postseason. With the second-best record in the American League, they were awarded a bye from the wild card to the division series and only needed 11 wins to win the World Series. And wouldn’t it be something if Judge walked away as the World Series MVP, too?
Whether they lose to the Cleveland Guardians in the divisional round, win the World Series or lose in between, the biggest question is where will Judge play next season?
Judge had his best season yet and is likely to win MVP unless voters select Los Angeles Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani to repeat. Judge hit a career-best .311 with league-bests of 1.111 OPS, 62 home runs, 131 RBIs, 111 walks, and 133 runs scored. He also had 28 doubles, 16 stolen bases in 19 attempts, and played 157 games.
It was his best season since he won Rookie of the Year in 2017, in which he finished second in MVP voting after hitting 52 home runs and driving in 114 runs, scoring 128 of his own. He is a four-time All-Star, too.
Judge is already 30 years old, but there’s no reason the average annual value (AAV) should rival that of the top players in baseball. How he negotiates, his next deal will be intriguing, too, whether it is a front-loaded contract or balanced throughout.
Shortstop Corey Seager received a 10-year contract last offseason worth $32.5 million, while fellow shortstop Francisco Lindor received a 10-year deal worth $34.1 million. Mike Trout makes $35.5 million, and Mookie Betts is at $30.4 million AAV. Lindor and Seager are each 28 years old, while Trout received his deal in 2019 and is now 31. Betts is 30 now and received his deal in 2021.
Judge may be able to get a higher AAV in the $32 to $34 million range if he goes with a shorter contract. But if he wants more years, say a decade or so, the AAV will probably drop down below $30 million. But there are teams who are willing to spend a high dollar to land the 6-foot-7 unicorn of an outfielder.
The obvious answer would be the Yankees, who already have more than $50 million tied up in teammates Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton. They are also, however, rumored to be targeting Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball who already lives in New York as a lifelong Mets ace.
But Judge appears comfortable in pinstripes, and he’s already settled and used to the New York ways — tough media, critical fans, and a World Series or bust mentality. It would be easy seeing Judge stick in New York, but will the Yankees spend big again?
His hometown of Linden, California, is not far from the Bay Area, just East of Stockton, which has many pundits believing he’ll end up in a San Francisco Giants uniform. Many analysts and reporters say the Giants are poised to spend big dollars this winter. Will the allure of playing close to home negate the pitcher’s ballpark? Never mind the fact the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers are further along than the Giants in the NL West.
Perhaps a surprise team comes along. The Atlanta Braves have locked up their young stars and could add to their outfield or as designated hitters. The Minnesota Twins chose to spend big on Carlos Correa in the short term and could be poised to do so again. Or perhaps the Chicago White Sox are looking to make a splash.
Wherever Judge lands, he’s bound to be the face of the franchise and draw a lot of attention, regardless of the market.