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Aaron Judge free agency: Ranking all 30 MLB teams as potential landing spots for Yankees superstar

CBS Sports logo CBS Sports 9/29/2022 R.J. Anderson
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Aaron Judge launched his 61st home run of the year on Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays, meaning he's now tied Roger Maris' single-season records for both the New York Yankees franchise and the American League as a whole. Seeing as how Judge is also threatening to win the AL Triple Crown, it's only fair to write that he's having one of the best offensive seasons in recent history. He'll likely be rewarded for it in the form of the AL's Most Valuable Player Award once all the ballots are counted this fall.

Judge will be rewarded in another respect this winter, as he's in line to become the offseason's most sought-after free agent. You may have heard that he turned down the Yankees' last extension offer in the spring, a deal that would've paid him more than $210 million. The decision to bet on himself looks brilliant now, and it makes for an enticing question: with whom might he end up signing before next season?

We here at CBS Sports are nothing if not the messy type, so below we've tiered and ranked all 30 teams based on their perceived likelihood of signing Judge. We should note that this is more of an art than a science -- there's still time left in the regular season, for Pete's sake -- and that exercise is for entertainment purposes only. In other words, don't get too high or low in response to your team's placement.

With the fine print out of the way, let's get to ranking things. 

Tier 1: No way, no how

30. Pittsburgh Pirates

29. Oakland Athletics

28. Miami Marlins

27. Kansas City Royals

26. Tampa Bay Rays

25. Cincinnati Reds

Again, Judge turned down an extension that would have paid him more than $210 million. He's certain to receive even more this winter. Can you imagine the Royals or the Athletics handing out such a contract? Of course you can't; not in this version of the simulation. We would, however, pay a small fee to watch a livestream where Pirates general manager Ben Cherington presents the idea to owner Bob Nutting. 

Tier 2: Swing and a miss

24. Detroit Tigers

23. Washington Nationals

22. Baltimore Orioles

21. Milwaukee Brewers

20. Colorado Rockies

19. Los Angeles Angels

None of these teams seem likely to either 1) spend the necessary money or 2) make the postseason. Seeing as how Judge will have his choice of teams that can and will do both, there's no sense wasting much time weighing this group's respective merits. We will concede that the idea of Judge joining forces with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani is tempting, but the Angels seem more likely to trade Ohtani before or after a sale.

Tier 3: Missing an element

18. Arizona Diamondbacks

17. Chicago White Sox

16. Minnesota Twins

15. Cleveland Guardians

The White Sox, Twins, and Guardians will presumably battle again for the American League Central crown next season. None of them seem likely to splurge on a player of Judge's caliber -- though the Twins did sign Carlos Correa last offseason, so maybe anything is possible. The Diamondbacks are a team on the rise, but they have an outfield full of youngsters, suggesting they should spend their coin elsewhere. 

Tier 4: On the warning track

14. Philadelphia Phillies

13. San Diego Padres

12. Seattle Mariners

11. Toronto Blue Jays

10. Houston Astros

9. Atlanta Braves

8. Texas Rangers

7. St. Louis Cardinals

6. Chicago Cubs

If you told us one of these teams got involved on Judge, we wouldn't be shocked; we're just not counting on them making a serious run because of this or that factor. The Padres and Rangers have made several notable additions to their rosters over the past year. We're not sure if either has room for the kind of deal that Judge will demand. The Mariners, Blue Jays, Astros, and Braves all seem more likely to focus on keeping or extending their own -- the Braves, for instance, have to sort out whether or not they'll be keeping Dansby Swanson in town. The Cardinals were in the running for Juan Soto, suggesting they might have the appetite for another big-time slugger. Would they pony up for Judge? We're skeptical. Then there's the Cubs, who will probably focus their energy (and their money) toward upgrading at shortstop. 

5. Boston Red Sox

We're skeptical of ranking the Red Sox this highly as well. Chaim Bloom has shown little willingness to spend, and it would seem odd to trade Mookie Betts only to turn around a few winters later and sign Judge. Besides, they have to figure out what they're doing with the left side of their infield, in shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers. There are only so many teams who can realistically meet Judge's price point, though, and the Red Sox happen to be one of those teams.

Tier 5: The favorites

At last we've done it, we've reached the final four, or the teams who we think have the best chances of signing Judge this winter. Let's dive right in.

4. San Francisco Giants

One front-office source scoffed at us listing the Giants as a favorable landing spot for Judge, but hear us out on this one. The Giants have made past plays for Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, suggesting they have the appetite for a middle-of-the-order thumper. Much of San Francisco's existing core is aging into retirement or decline, leaving Farhan Zaidi in a position where it's past time to import a new face of the franchise. The Giants will shed several long-term commitments both this winter and next, too, giving them the financial freedom to make a splash. And hey, it may not help that Judge played in college about three hours from Oracle Park, but it probably won't hurt. Maybe that source will prove to be correct; we just think the Giants are due to emerge as a serious dark horse for a top free agent again sometime soon.

3. New York Mets

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

We aren't quite bound by law to include the Dodgers and Mets near the top of this list (and others that are similar in concept), but we're closer to that than not. The Dodgers have several huge contracts coming off the books this offseason, including those belonging to Trea Turner and David Price. They could free up even more money by non-tendering Cody Bellinger, should they choose to do so. As a result of their apparent financial flexibility, they get the higher ranking. The Mets, for their part, have shown no real aversion to spending as much money as they desire under Steve Cohen. Even so, Billy Eppler will have some major internal business to handle this offseason, as ace Jacob deGrom and closer Edwin Diaz can both hit the open market. Would the Mets really be willing to retain those two and sign Judge? Maybe so.

1. New York Yankees

And yet, we have to go with the Yankees as Judge's top potential suitor. Yes, this is the coward's choice, and yes, they've heretofore failed to lock down Judge. There are several factors at play that could coerce a greater sense of urgency from them when the two sides talk again this winter. For one, Brian Cashman has to know his team would be far worse off without Judge in tow. For another, the Yankees seldom let their homegrown stars leave in free agency (Robinson Canó is the exception), and it would be a hard sell to let Judge walk after he topples Maris' record. Then there's the Mets factor: can you imagine the mood around the Yankees if they allow Judge to high-tail it across the city? Maybe Cashman and the Yankees have the stomach to withstand it all, but we're sticking with the incumbent until there's reason to count them out.

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