For a few weeks during the offseason, an awkward possibility existed of Aaron Judge wearing the uniform of the San Francisco Giants and lining up along the visiting baseline while getting introduced to fans at Yankee Stadium.
Instead, Judge re-signed with the New York Yankees, and the slugger will be officially introduced as the 16th captain in team history Thursday afternoon in New York's home opener against the Giants.
After hitting 62 homers to break Roger Maris' single-season American League home run record, Judge spent a little over a month in free agency and the Giants were among the teams vying for his services. The Giants made such an effort to lure the California native that they reportedly offered him a $360 million contract.
After a phone call from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, Judge was retained by the Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million deal. And when Judge's new contract was official, the Yankees also named him as the team's first captain since Derek Jeter retired following the 2014 season.
Judge will take the field with a shortstop drawing comparisons to Jeter when top prospect Anthony Volpe makes his major league debut. Sportsbooks consider Volpe a favorite for AL Rookie of the Year and is expected to bat ninth after officially being told Sunday he was making the Opening Day roster.
The Yankees are unveiling Judge as captain and Volpe's debut after getting swept in the American League Championship Series by the Houston Astros, when Judge made the final out. It ended a season where the Yankees dominated most of the first half and won 99 games to win their first division title since 2019.
"That's why we play this game. We play to win, we play to be on top," Judge said. "When you play in New York, that's the one and only goal."
After losing out on Judge, San Francisco hopes the additions of Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger can help them rebound from a disappointing follow-up to their 107-win campaign. The Giants went 81-81 and scored 716 runs last year, down from the 804 they scored in 2021.
"I think it's going to be fun," San Francisco president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "We tried to sign (Judge), but he's the opposition now. I think, if anything, it provides a little extra motivation for us."
Conforto signed a two-year, $36 million deal after missing last season recovering from right shoulder surgery. Conforto experienced mixed results in seven seasons with the Mets and hit .232 with 14 homers and 55 RBIs in 2021.
Haniger signed a three-year, $43.5 million contract with the Giants banking on similar production from his 39-homer season in 2021. Unlike Conforto, Haniger will likely miss the series against New York with a Grade 1 oblique strain that was diagnosed March 11.
Gerrit Cole will make his fourth straight Opening Day start for the Yankees. Cole pitched well in the postseason after going 13-8 with a 3.50 ERA in a regular season, where he led the majors with 257 strikeouts but also allowed an AL-worst 33 homers.
Cole is 5-1 with a 3.15 ERA in seven career starts against the Giants.
Logan Webb will start a season opener for the second straight season. Last year, Webb followed up an 11-3 showing in 2021 by going 15-9 with a 2.90 ERA while throwing a career-high 192 1/3 innings.
Webb heads into his first career start against the Yankees after going 4-1 with a 2.96 ERA in his final five starts of 2022.
--Field Level Media