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Will Yankees keep or lose Aaron Judge? | Beat writers roundtable

NJ.com 12/1/2022 Randy Miller, Brendan Kuty, Bob Klapisch, nj.com

The Yankees’ offseason began essentially with Anthony Rizzo coming back, but it all comes down to Aaron Judge.

Is Judge staying or leaving after hitting 62 homers and winning the AL MVP?

What we know is that Judge’s bet on himself last April might get him $100 million more than the Yankees’ $213.5 million extension offer.

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Free agency began in mid-November, but there have been mostly rumors and gossip so far. That could change during next week’s Winter Meetings, which begin Sunday in San Diego. That’s when Judge expects his contract talks to heat up, and he’s stated that he would like to get a deal done quickly so that his club can start addressing other needs.

How will this play out?

NJ Advance Media baseball writers Brendan Kuty, Randy Miller, Bob Klapisch offered their takes in our first beat writers roundtable of the offseason:

Klapisch: Speaking to Yankee officials over the last couple of days, the overriding sentiment is that Judge is going to make his decision next week, which makes sense. Everybody would like to see this come to fruition sooner than later. The Yankees and the industry at large has been at a standstill waiting for Judge to weigh the offers and decide what’s in his heart. I’d be very, very surprised if it goes beyond mid-December and would be shocked if we’re still talking about this past New Year’s. I think a decision is imminent.

Kuty: Judge knows that he’s going to be his next team’s biggest expenditure by far — not just next year but probably for several years to come — and if he really wants to win, it’s got to happen soon so his team can set its budget. Really, we’re talking about the Yankees and Giants here. I agree with Bob. I’m thinking Judge decides where he’s going during the Winter Meetings or shortly after they end next Thursday.

Miller: The big questions are how much money does Judge get and where does he go? Jeff Passan of ESPN reported on Wednesday that the Yankees have offered eight years for about $300 million. That’s a $37.5 average annual salary, which would be a new record for position players, topping Mike Trout’s $35.54 million AAV in his 12-year, $426.5 million contract. I’ve been predicting Judge will go to his hometown team, the Giants, and I still think there’s a good chance of that occurring. I feel like I’ve been on an island expecting Judge to leave the Yankees, but I do believe everyone in the industry now sees the Giants as a serious contender.

Klapisch: If you’d asked me a month ago, I would have said it was a tossup because the factors, both pro and con for the Yankees and the Giants, negated each other. I didn’t think there would be a clear favorite. Now I think it’s 70/30 that Judge returns to the Yankees. He’s had time to think about it. Judge has gotten over the disappointment and frustration of another playoff failure. And I think in the long run he realizes that his best chance of getting to the playoffs on an annual basis is with the Yankees, more so than with the Giants. He is comfortable with the fan base and I think he considers the Yankees’ fans family. The Yankees themselves are part of his extended family and I thought it was a big factor that they re-signed Anthony Rizzo. Judge’s relationship with Rizzo is practically brother to brother. Judge is so family oriented that the Rizzo signing tipped the scales in the Yankees’ favor.

Kuty: Agreed. I spelled it out in a piece about a week ago, the reasons why I think it looks like Judge is coming back. The biggest thing for me is Judge has a great thing going. If Judge returns, he’s going to be the captain of the New York Yankees. He grew up a San Francisco Giants fan. Cool. His family’s from out there. Cool. But this is historic. This is transcendent. He’s going to be the highest-paid position player of all time. The record contract and captaincy, I think those are the two biggest factors. Also, Judge has been to the playoffs every year since his rookie season in 2017. I think that the team that’s around him now and the team that Hal Steinbrenner will continue to put around Judge gives him the best chance at that World Series, the best chance at further cementing that legacy that he talked about after winning the MVP award.

Miller: You guys mentioned family. Yes, the Yankees are like family to Judge. But one of the biggest reasons why I still believe the Giants have a very good chance is Judge’s real family. His loyalties lie with his actual family more than his baseball family. He’s now married. His hometown is 95 miles east of San Francisco in Linden, a tiny no-red light town. His parents still live there. His wife’s parents live there. His mother runs his charity there. His mother-in-law works at his high school. At some point, Aaron and his wife probably will have children. I believe Judge would like those children raised near the four grandparents. Also, from knowing someone who has spoken to Giants owners, I know how badly they want him. Eight years for $300 million, that’s not going to be enough. I think the Giants will go well above that. I think Judge gets at least nine years and I can see the Giants offering 10. Will the Yankees go that many years? I don’t know. I’ve heard and written that the Giants are saying they will not be outbid. They are going to make this a tough decision for Judge. Yes, there are attractive reasons that can and may entice Judge to return to the Yankees. Winning, tradition, legacy, captaincy. But there are intriguing reasons to go home, too. I think Judge will sign with the Giants if they offer the most money and convince him that they will be a contender through the length of the contract … and starting in 2023.

Klapisch: I agree it may take a ninth year to get Judge, but the Yankees are a better team than the Giants. Judge is all about winning and that’s the reason the Yankees have the upper hand in this negotiation. The Giants certainly have a good sales pitch and they’ve used it effectively on Judge, but I’m not so sure the hometown factor counts as much as you say, Randy. San Francisco and Linden are different cultures, and they’re two-hours apart. It’s not like he’s going around the corner to play for a team that was in close proximity to his parent’s house. It’s a whole different world between what he grew up in and downtown San Francisco. I get it in that in one sense it’s northern California, but I’m not sure the pull is quite as compelling as it’s been made out to be. I think he considers New York home right now. Judge is comfortable in the Bronx. He loves the fans here. He loves the Bleacher Creatures. And when we talk about loyalty, Judge is loyal to the Yankees. Judge is loyal to Rizzo. Judge is loyal to his high school sweetheart, whom he married. He’s loyal to the one agent he’s always had. I wrote in a column this week, if you’ve ever seen “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Bedford Falls turns into turns into Pottersville. Well, if Jimmy Stewart was playing Judge, he would not be married to his high school sweetheart and wouldn’t have his one small-time agent. He’s dating Taylor Swift and is represented by Scott Boras. He’s in the clubs every night with his posse ordering bottle service at 4 a.m. He’s a dark knight. But that’s not Aaron Judge. He’s a sweet, relatively guileless young man who’s put down roots with the Yankees. I think that counts a lot.

Miller: What also counts a lot, if Judge is with the Giants he can go back to Linden on an off day and escape the big-city life. I spent a day in Linden last August. He’s their Michael Jordan, but he isn’t bothered there. They protect him and give him his privacy. A lot of people there won’t even talk about him to the press because they know that’s what Judge and his family want. As for Yankees fans, I believe the booing at Yankee Stadium last season was bothersome to Judge’s family. He was booed in April and again in two playoffs games after hitting 62 homers, which was stunning. It was not the entire fan base, but there were enough to be heard. Also, I believe it upset Judge last season when Yankees fans were really on Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks. He really hurt for his teammates. That’s part of playing baseball in New York. It’s not like that in San Francisco, and that’s another reason why I think the Giants are the favorites to land Judge.

Klapisch: I think the counter to that is if you stay in New York, you’re putting yourself in a unique fraternity. You’re going to end up beginning and ending your career as a Yankee star, just like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly. One day Judge is going to have his plaque out in Monument Park. And he’s going to be captain next year if he returns. That is a unique legacy, and I don’t think that Judge weighs that lightly. It’s a huge factor in the Yankees’ favor, and I think they’ve played that up hard.

Kuty: We’re also talking about a guy who turned down more than $200 million and then went out and hit 62 home runs to set a new American League record. I don’t know if anything matches up to that kind of pressure that he put himself under. And for all the booing that Judge had to deal with, he still plays catch between innings of games with kids sitting in the right-field stands. He’s out there in right field every day kneeling before games to say a quick prayer. I think that’s all become part of who he is in his heart. I’m speculating here, but I think it’s different when you uproot yourself, pull away and say, “I have to start again.” Who wants to do that?

Miller: Bob, you mentioned the Giants are an inferior team. That’s true, but keep in mind two years ago they won 107 ballgames with a roster that isn’t that much different than what they had last year. If you put Judge on the Giants and subtract him from the Yankees, you can argue that the Giants are a serious playoff contender and the Yankees are no sure thing to make the playoffs for the seventh year in a row.

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Klapisch: I don’t know, Randy. The Giants have to deal with the Dodgers every year, and that’s a huge obstacle for everyone in the National League. For the Giants in particular, you’ve got a team with a $300 million payroll in front of you in the NL West. Judge would obviously make the Giants much, much better, but the Dodgers are still the superior team in that division and will be for the foreseeable future. That’s something Judge has to consider.

Kuty: The flip side of that argument, Klap, is the Astros just went out and signed Jose Abreu after winning the World Series. So for every Dodger that’s ahead of the Giants, there’s an Astro ahead of the Yankees. But the Astros aren’t in the Yankees division, so that leans in their favor. I’m just going to leave it at this: Judge has a good thing going with all this money coming and his roots are already planted. That’s the way I see it.

Klapisch: One thing we didn’t mention is Judge’s relationship with Aaron Boone, which is beyond solid. It’s almost brotherly, and I don’t know if the Giants can possibly match that with Gabe Kapler. We talked about the sense of loyalty. I think that extends into the manager’s office, as well.

Miller: Bottom line, the Giants don’t have a chance unless they convince Judge that they’ll bringing in at least one and maybe two other big-time free agents, another hitter for sure and maybe a frontline starter, too. They also need to convince Judge that they’ll keep spending beyond this offseason to compete with the Dodgers. I think the Giants can do that. I know for sure that’s their plan, so I still think there’s a very good chance that Judge opts to go home. We’ll probably see who’s right very soon.

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Randy Miller may be reached at rmiller@njadvancemedia.com.

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