The moment Aaron Judge placed a sizeable bet on himself by rejecting the Yankees’ preseason contract offer, it was clear that the slugger would become one of the league’s central storylines during the 2022 season.
Judge’s historic season has him in line for a huge contract, one many expect will exceed $300 million and establish a new record for average annual value for a position player, topping Mike Trout’s $35.5 million. Only nine players in history have signed deals worth $300 million, giving Judge a chance to join that exclusive club.
The $300 million question is: Which team will Judge be playing for in 2023 and beyond? Here’s a look at five possible landing spots for Judge.
The Yankees offered Judge a seven-year, $213.5 million extension prior to the season, but the outfielder decided to bet on himself and play out his walk year. That bet has obviously paid off for Judge, whose monster year has him as a firm AL MVP frontrunner.
New York understands the value of star power, and there hasn’t been a bigger star in pinstripes since Derek Jeter retired eight years ago. It would be surprising to see the Yankees let Judge leave the Bronx, where fans continue to flock to see his powerful swing. If he signs a long-term deal to stay with the Yankees, Judge would also likely be named the team’s first captain since Jeter.
Ask almost anybody inside the game which team could pry Judge away from the Bronx and the first answer is usually the Giants, who have been looking for a face-of-the-franchise type of star to succeed Buster Posey. San Francisco took swings for both Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper in recent years, showing that the Giants aren’t afraid to pay a star player.
With only $92 million in salaries committed in 2023 -- a number that will likely drop to $70 million if/when Carlos Rodón opts out -- and $20.5 million guaranteed in 2024, the Giants have plenty of payroll flexibility. Also of note: Judge hails from Linden, Calif., less than 100 miles from Oracle Park. Coming home might not be a determining factor for Judge, but it could prove to be a selling point for the Giants.
Imagine the back pages we’d see if the Mets made a move to sign Judge away from the Yankees. It seems unimaginable that the Yankees would allow Judge to sign across town, but Steve Cohen has enough money to make things interesting.
The Mets have their own issues to address this offseason, most notably what to do with Jacob deGrom, who is expected to opt out of his contract. Closer Edwin Diaz is also headed for free agency, while starters Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker are expected to become free agents as well. Signing Judge would excite an already enthusiastic fan base, but GM Billy Eppler figures to focus on pitching this winter.
Like the Mets, the Dodgers have other areas of concern heading into the offseason; Trea Turner and Clayton Kershaw are among the top free agents on the roster, making shortstop and the starting rotation two of their main priorities.
That said, it’s silly to count out the Dodgers when it comes to any big-name free agent. In fact, sources say Los Angeles – which could have more than $120 million coming off the books this winter – might let Turner walk and make a serious bid for Judge. Mookie Betts is apparently willing to move to second base, per sources, which would free up right field for Judge.
Plenty of players have jumped from one side of the rivalry to the other, but none would cause the aftershocks that Judge-to-Boston would create. This doesn’t feel like a likely scenario, but after a disappointing season that ended with a last-place finish in the AL East, the Red Sox could try to make a big splash in free agency.
But would Judge actually spurn Yankees fans and sign with the hated Red Sox? Judge was asked that question in September, and while he didn’t say he was ready to move to the North End just yet, he also didn’t rule anything out, telling reporters, “We’ll talk about that at the end of the year.”
He’s right about that. Undoubtedly, Judge will be the talk of the offseason just as he’s been for the past six-plus months.