After a long night of negotiations, the biggest offseason domino fell early this morning as Aaron Judge, the AL MVP who gambled on himself this season and had a historic 2o22, has decided to return to the Yankees on a 9-year deal worth $360M, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The massive deal, pending a physical, will pay Judge $40M per season.
Judge set an AL record with 62 home runs, and led the league in damn near every offensive category, including RBI (131), runs (133), OPS (1.111) OBP (.425) walks (111) and, of course, total bases (391).
Judge buzz was thick last night because the New York Post’s Jon Heyman tweeted that the Yankee right fielder was headed to San Fran, before having to walk it back. According to reports, the Giants made Judge a 9-year, $360M offer, which the Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner was willing to match to keep Judge in pinstripes.
Heading into the 2022 season, the Yankees offered Judge a 7-year deal worth $213.5 million, an offer Yankees GM Brian Cashman made public heading into Opening Day. Judge turned down that offer, instead deciding to bet on himself, and the fact that there would be more money waiting for him in free agency. With his new deal coming in at $146.5M more, it’s safe to say he was right.
The Judge signing is the highlight of the Winter Meetings that have gone back to being actual Winter Meetings, it seems. After a couple winters where nothing happened at this time, and most free agents of any note signed right before or even after the start of spring training, we’re back to a little chaos throughout the halls of some hotel where everyone has convened (this time San Diego). Trea Turner and Justin Verlander found new homes. There were some lower-level deals, and it felt like a welcome return of the Hot Stove.
But this being MLB, there’s never a rake too far away that they can’t step on, and so it came to pass:
This is the same story as a couple years ago, though in reverse, when MLB tried to deaden the baseball that had been so springy during the regular season so as not to turn their playoffs into a homer-happy farce. There were stories early last season about how much variance players thought there was in the baseballs being used, and it doesn’t appear to have gotten too much better as the season went along and after it became public.
MLB and Rawling have denied that there was any change in the baseball and insist it was uniform throughout the season, despite this research. It’s hard to give MLB too much leeway when we’ve seen them do this before, and we now know they control the whole production process.
What MLB won’t admit is that it fucked up in “deadening” the baseball in the past two seasons, though it can’t quite seem to rid itself of the souped-up ones produced before either. While some of the homer numbers got a little silly back in 2019, hitters were basically being punished for executing the only gameplan that worked for them, which was to try and crush the one hittable pitch per AB, and maybe even per game, that they got. With stupid spin-rates and air-piercing velocity, hitting is harder than it’s ever been, so hitters had to maximize their few chances at making solid contact. Instead, what they got was hitting the ball well, maybe as hard as they could, and watching the baseball deflate on the warning track. MLB didn’t really get a huge increase in contact or singles, though marginal ones.
Given MLB’s and Rob Manfred’s recent history, it’s entirely plausible that they accidentally fucked up the production of baseballs, and/or unknowingly put different baseballs into use during the most important time of the year, October.
It’s also entirely possible that they were panicked that postseason games would simply become a host of 2-0 borefests with dueling bullpens sending out yahoo after yahoo throwing 102 with a slider that cracks the air putting up zero after zero. Basically a whole lot of Mariners-Astros Game 3.
If you were the curious or devilish sort, you might recall that almost all of October’s big moments were homers, like Yordan Alvarez’s heroics at the beginning and end, or the Phillies going full fireworks factory throughout their run. But then, Alvarez is quite the slugger, the Phillies lineup is filled with guys who can go on a homer binge at any time, and Citizens’ Bank Park usually acts as a bouncy castle anyway. Still, you can see it, can’t you?
Perhaps the funniest aspect of Insider.com’s research is that MLB either just ended up with or actively tried to split the difference between its dead ball and its flubber one, and it seems the Yankees were playing with it a lot. No, Aaron Judge didn’t make them, and he wouldn’t have known anything about it. But you can’t help your eyebrow reaching for the skies when you see that the Yankees were playing with a more lively ball more often in August and September, when the world was aware of his pursuit of 60 homers. Almost just a little too perfect, no?
You wouldn’t think it would be so hard for MLB to have a uniform baseball, given that it controls every level of production of it now.
Again, if this were any other entity, you could probably dismiss the confluence of events as just being happenstance and have a little chuckle. Given what we know about MLB, that gets harder and harder to do. It’s probably not the kind of thing most fans care about, but it’s another bullet point when fans consider what a mess the league has been.