Aaron Judge’s bet on himself paid off in a big way.
The judge has agreed to return to the New York Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million contract, sources confirmed to ESPN early Wednesday morning, giving the slugger nearly $150 million more than what the team gave him in the spring had offered.
He decided to stay with the Yankees after flirting with the San Francisco Giants, the team located about 100 miles from where Judge grew up in California, and the San Diego Padres, who made it clear that they are open to big steps this winter.
The looming specter of Judge going to San Francisco or San Diego gave him the last bit of leverage he needed to earn the highest average annual salary ($40 million) for a position player in history, and thus Mike Trouts Surpassing $36 million per year. But Judge had already done most of the work to improve his negotiating position with his incredible 2022 season.
The Yankees had signed a seven-year, $213.5 million contract by the end of spring training, and when Judge flatly declined that offer, general manager Brian Cashman revealed the team’s offer in a news conference. Cashman’s rationale for this decision was that the bid would be reported anyway and wanted transparency.
The judge disagreed, telling Time magazine in an interview published Tuesday that he felt the Yankees’ disclosure of the bid should antagonize fans and the media as he neared free hands.
But Judge never expressed those feelings during the season. Rather, he focused on the performance and the team. After a slow start that drew some boos from Yankee Stadium, Judge exploded. After making more than 50 plate appearances before hitting his first home run of the season, Judge hit 12 home runs in May and 11 in June – and that’s when he got really hot. In the second half of the season, Judge averaged .349 with a base percentage of .502 and a slugging percentage of .785.
As Judge continued producing after the All-Star hiatus, he almost single-handedly saved the Yankees from one of baseball’s biggest meltdowns. When the Yankees’ big lead in the American League East was almost gone, Judge sustained the offense with seemingly daily exploits. In a series against the Toronto Blue Jays, he scored a goal in each run.
Judge hit his 60th homer of the season on September 20, building on Babe Ruth’s 1927 mark. On September 28 in Toronto, he equaled Roger Maris’ AL record with his 61st. On October 4, Judge Maris homed in the first inning to pass Texas Rangers’ Jesus Tinoco.
Last month, Judge was named the AL MVP for a season in which he hit .311 with 133 runs and 131 RBIs.
The Yankees have a long history of pulling the line in contract negotiations, even with their own superstars, from Ruth to Joe DiMaggio to Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter. But the pressure on owner Hal Steinbrenner to sign Judge was perhaps unlike anything he’d experienced before, given Judge’s performance and popularity with Yankees fans.
Steinbrenner repeatedly spoke to Judge after the Yankees were eliminated by the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series and made an offer of about $300 million over eight years early in the offseason, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
The Yankees’ uncertainty about the judge’s intentions only grew. In past hearings, including those in the spring, the judge’s side responded with a simple “no” rather than making a counteroffer. When Judge met with the Giants and Padres, the Yankees weren’t sure what he was going to do. Nervousness within the organization grew as the front office prepared possible plan Bs, such as chasing a shortstop, maybe Xander Bogaerts.
The judge flew to San Diego Monday to meet with the Padres, who previously made a record-breaking but unsuccessful offer to Trea Turner, according to Passan. Steinbrenner upped his offer to $360 million — nearly 70% more than what the Yankees offered just eight months ago, reflecting Judge’s value to the franchise and the growing free-agent market.
“Hopefully Hal Steinbrenner is the Mariano Rivera of these negotiations and was able to get something done,” Cashman said Wednesday.
“Hal Steinbrenner spearheaded this one,” added Cashman. “…Our organization has attempted to keep in touch in every way possible and Hal Steinbrenner has also directly with Aaron Judge to ensure that no stone is left unturned and no effort was wasted in our discussions. When Aaron Judge made a final decision on this what he wants to do with his professional career as he progresses that nothing would go unsaid or unsaid.”
Going forward, the Yankees could make tough decisions shaped by the contractual obligations on their books. They already owe about $105 million annually to Judge, pitcher Gerrit Cole and outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, along with long-term contracts with DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks. You must identify a shortstop, another starting pitcher, and a bullpen assist.
But all of that might feel a little easier now that they’ve retained their franchise anchor and clubhouse manager in Judge, who appears to be Jeter’s apparent heir as the team’s next captain.
MLB Network was the first to report that Judge would re-sign with the Yankees, while The Athletic was first to report the terms of the agreement.
ESPN’s Joon Lee contributed to this report.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/35202619/aaron-judge-agrees-9-year-360m-deal-stick-yankees-per-report Aaron Judge cashes in with 9-year, $360M Yankees deal, sources confirm