As the MLB season marches on, the Hot Stove heats up. The trade deadline is still a month-and-a-half away, but the rumors have already started flying. Names are being dropped. Fans are giving hot takes, and MLB clubs straddling the line between playoff contenders and pretenders are trying to decide whether or not they should be buyers or sellers.
One of the most intriguing club decisions will come from the New York Yankees — a team with expectations as large as Bob Baffert’s sense of self-importance, but has not lived up to them. Sixty-five games into the season the Yankees sit fourth in the tough American League East and are just one game above .500.
Safe to say the Yankee fan base has gone berserk. While 33-32 may not seem like such a bad record for a team like the Pirates, who’ve finished better than .500 just once in the past five seasons, an even record is a fate worse than death for fans in the Bronx. Changes have to be made. People need to be fired. Players need to be traded. No one is off-limits… not even Aaron Judge.
That’s right. It’s gotten so bad that Yankee fans are torn over the idea of trading Judge or not. Judge is a player who, when healthy, imposes fear in those that dare not utter his name. He’s a boogeyman of baseball… when he isn’t sidelined with a right oblique strain… or a wrist fracture… or a partial lung collapse.
Judge is currently on a one-year contract worth $10.5 million with an arbitration clause for the 2022 season. So, best-case scenario, the Yankees hold on to Judge for a year and a half more on a team-friendly deal until he becomes an unrestricted free agent ahead of the 2023 season.
Judge is one of the most coveted ball players in the league today. He’d certainly bring in a haul in a trade. But are the Yankees really that bad that they’d trade away a generational talent in Judge?
In terms of money, it’s a reasonable question to pose. There’s no question that Judge will command at least $150-200 million in the free-agent market. The Yankees already have two monster contracts on their roster in Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole — both of whom are locked up until at least 2027. Could the Yankees afford to add a third $25 million-plus contract to their roster? If they’re trying to build a competitive roster, the answer is… probably not.
Take a team like the Los Angeles Angels. Not a poor team. In fact, they’re routinely in the top 10 in terms of payroll. However, the Angels love to spend big on flashy names and fan-favorites and ultimately fail to put together a contender every year. The Angels will spend over $86 million this year on Justin Upton, Anthony Rendon, and Mike Trout. That’s over 47.5 percent of their total payroll… on two players in their thirties and Trout about to be in August. With the amount of money Judge will command in free agency, the Yankees would likely surpass that number with their big three contracts.
It’s fine to pay a lot for great players. The problem lies in when those great players get hurt. Trout, Upton, and Rendon have each spent serious amounts of time sidelined for the Angels. The Yankees are already paying Stanton a base salary of $29 million, and he’s played in just 86 games since 2019. With all of Judge’s recent injury problems, could New York really afford to risk another “Stanton-esque” contract on him?
As a team, the Yankees need pitching. While the team has sustained some success on the mound in 2021, they’ve done it all despite a slew of injuries to their rotation, and did not finish top-10 in team ERA in 2020 or 2019. That won’t cut it in the AL East. The return of players like Luke Voit and adding depth to the lineup (maybe even finding a shortstop in the loaded upcoming offseason so you can move Gleyber Torres back to his natural position at 2B) would likely make up for the offense lost by shipping Judge out somewhere else. Not to mention, the Yankees would get a ton of top-tier prospects in return as well.
I understand that Judge is a fan favorite. I mean, for goodness sake, the guy’s got an entire section of the bleachers at Yankee Stadium named after him. But the times in New York are calling for change. Boone is likely out after this season, and a new Yankees era will begin in 2022. Whether or not Judge will be at the forefront of this new era is yet unknown, but trading Judge away would be the smart choice.