Inbox: Will Yankees extend Aaron Judge?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from fans

February 5th, 2021

This week, Luke Voit was asked how long it took him to get over the American League Division Series loss to the Rays. His answer probably won't surprise you: The Yankees first baseman still hasn't swallowed that, and he probably never will.

"It left a sore spot on me," Voit said. "It's going to carry into [this] year too. Man, I'm ready to get back at those guys."

As Voit and his teammates prepare for the new season and another run at championship No. 28, let's dive into the Yankees Inbox:

What are your thoughts on an Aaron Judge extension? I feel like it's in his best interest -- and honestly the Yanks' -- to get an extension done.
-- Ryan S., Slippery Rock, Pa.

The Yankees are coming up on some crucial decisions as the "Baby Bombers" graduate into the primes of their careers, and no issue may be thornier than the one the team faces with Judge. He has been one of the franchise's most popular players since his remarkable 2017 American League Rookie of the Year season, even scoring his own dedicated "Judge's Chambers" seating area in Section 104. Someday soon, we hope that fans will be there again, wearing black robes and waving foam gavels.

We know that Judge can be the best player on the field when he's healthy -- look at last season, when he had nine homers and 20 RBIs through his first 62 at-bats. Judge seemed to be on an MVP pace before he strained his right calf, and that's the concern with a long-term extension: of a potential 384 regular-season games from 2018-20, Judge has played in 242 (63 percent). There isn't much Judge could do about getting hit in the wrist by a pitch, but he has been frustrated by the muscle strains, leading to a new conditioning program that heavily involves yoga.

Pardon the expression, but I feel that the jury is still out on a Judge extension, and the team seems to be playing a wait-and-see game. Judge is earning $10.175 million this year, and he could get a nice raise next season, his final year of arbitration before potentially becoming a free agent in 2023. I imagine that they will find common ground, but Judge's health over the next two years -- as well as the unsettled nature of baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement -- could play significant roles in determining how much the Yankees are willing to commit.

Do you think the Yankees should consider playing Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield every so often? Is DH fatigue a concern?
-- Matt N., North Carolina

Eric Cressey, the Yankees' director of player health and performance, made an interesting observation this week on the YES Network. Watching Stanton run sprints in the outfield before Game 5 of the ALDS, Cressey believed that Stanton looked athletic enough to play the outfield that night -- a comment he later communicated to manager Aaron Boone.

The Yankees have been consistent in stating that they see Stanton entering 2021 as a designated hitter, apparently fearful of the injury risks that playing the outfield could present. Stanton seems to like the DH role, and they've got plenty of candidates to play defense, but Stanton is 31, not 41. It's too early to say he's a permanent DH; you'd like to at least have the option of starting Stanton in an outfield corner. I'll be curious to see how much, if at all, he brings his glove out to shag fly balls this spring.

What is your projected Opening Day lineup? And the roles of everyone in the bullpen?
-- Mark Z., Atlanta, Ga.

I believe we have enough information to make an educated guess on how the lineup could look on April 1 against the Blue Jays. Here's a way-too-early crack at it:

DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Aaron Judge, RF
Aaron Hicks, CF
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Luke Voit, 1B
Gleyber Torres, SS
Gio Urshela, 3B
Gary Sánchez, C
Clint Frazier, LF

Note that it's a batting order entirely populated by right-handed hitters, except for Hicks, a switch-hitter.

As for the bullpen, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green and Darren O'Day are your late-inning locks, and I'd expect Luis Cessa to be in his familiar long-relief role. That probably leaves three spots for guys like Albert Abreu, Kyle Barraclough, Jhoulys Chacín, Nestor Cortes, Ben Heller, Michael King, Brooks Kriske, Jonathan Loaisiga, Tyler Lyons, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson, Adam Warren and Asher Wojciechowski, to name a few.

Any news on Brett Gardner?
-- Jonathan M., Orange County, Calif.

There has been little movement on the Gardner front, though senior vice president and GM Brian Cashman said that communication lines remain open. Until Gardner isn't with the team for their first full-squad workout on Feb. 22, I'm operating on the assumption that he'll be there somehow. If not, Greg Allen and Mike Tauchman (a switch-hitter and a lefty, respectively) will be heavily in the outfield mix.

Does Miguel Andújar have a role on this team?
-- Michael J., Rhode Island

With Urshela recovering from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, Andújar projects to pick up increased playing time at third base early in Spring Training -- an opportunity to showcase himself, both to the Yankees and the other 29 clubs. If Urshela is healthy, Andújar's role seems to be what it was last year -- remaining ready to fill in at the infield corners, possibly in the outfield and as a DH.

Which hitter could be poised for a breakout season?
-- Julian G., Oakland, N.J.

Let's call this a break-back season. Cashman has said that Sánchez is motivated to prove that 2020 was a fluke, and the Yankees were pleased when he volunteered to play winter ball and then reported to Tampa, Fla., early. I believe that Sánchez will show that he is much better than the .147 hitter we saw last year; otherwise, the Yanks will not hesitate to hand the reins over to Kyle Higashioka again.

What is Domingo Germán's role on this team?
-- Tony R., New Jersey

That largely depends upon how Germán looks, coming off more than a full year without facing professional competition. In Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino and Germán, the Yankees have four starters who combined for one inning last season, yet they could be essential pieces of the rotation come September and October. Germán will get a fair crack at the No. 5 rotation spot, going up against candidates like Deivi García, King and Clarke Schmidt. Considering Germán's long layoff, we shouldn't be surprised if he bumps into April needing more time.