Judge, Betts talk free agency, tough matchups and ... Taylor Swift

June 2nd, 2023

Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts is happy Aaron Judge decided to re-sign with the Yankees last offseason rather than joining his hometown Giants in free agency.

A deal with the Giants would have put Judge in the NL West, meaning regular matchups against Betts’ Dodgers. With Judge returning to New York, meetings with Betts are far less frequent than the would have been. The two will have one of those rare matchups this weekend when the Dodgers host the Yankees for a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.

Prior to Friday’s series opener, Judge joined Betts’ new show on Bleacher Report, “On Base,” for a wide-ranging conversation in which Judge opened up on a number of subjects, including his free-agent experience (a “stressful” process), his least favorite pitcher to face (the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow) and, yes, even his favorite Taylor Swift song (“Bad Blood”).

For a short time in December, it looked as though Judge might actually leave the Yankees to sign with the Giants, with a report emerging during the Winter Meetings that the slugger was close to a deal with San Francisco.

“When I had heard you were going to the Giants, my heart kind of sank a little bit,” Betts said.

“You didn’t want to see me?” Judge interjected.

“I want to see you, but I don’t want to see you in right field [for the Giants],” Betts said. [I was thinking], the Giants, it’s already a rivalry, and now they’re going to be so good, what you were going to add to that team, so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’"

Judge shed some light on his mindset throughout the free-agent process, noting that he always wanted to return to New York but owed it to himself and his family to at least test the waters.

“I think I’d kick myself down the road if I just didn’t go through the process, just check out the process, see what other teams had to offer,” Judge told Betts. “I got to meet a lot of great coaches, a lot of great front offices, other players with other teams, and just kind of see how they ran things, what their mindset was.

“At the end of the day, what it came down to for me was winning. You got two World Series rings [with the Red Sox in 2018 and the Dodgers in 2020]. For me that was my main goal. So looking through all the options, looking through all the teams we talked to, it always came back to which team was going to give me the best chance to win. New York is always at the top of that list.”

Judge has become one of the best hitters of his generation, including an AL-record 62 homers and an AL MVP Award in 2022, but there was a time when his future didn’t look so rosy. During his 2016 debut season, Judge hit .179 with four homers and 42 strikeouts in 95 plate appearances.

Judge credits a swing change he made in a hitting session the following offseason with helping his career take off. He knew immediately that he had unlocked something.

“I remember getting back in the car with [team-teammate] Rob [Refsnyder], right after we hit for like an hour or two, and I said, ‘Bro, I think I’m hitting 50 homers next year.’”

Judge went on to hit 52 home runs, setting a then-rookie record and winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He topped that mark last season, leading to a much anticipated run at free agency that culminated with a record $360 million contract as well as a new title: Yankees captain.

Judge bought a house after signing his megadeal because that is what his wife, Samantha, wanted most, but otherwise he has refrained from making any big purchases.

“I’m still waiting for these first couple checks to come through,” Judge joked. “It’s early, man, it’s just June. Give me some time. Give me until the All-Star break.”

“I’ll see you at the All-Star Game,” said Betts.

“I’ll have something,” Judge promised.