TAMPA, Fla. -- The telephone conversation was short and sweet, taking place between Aaron Judge and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on an early December afternoon. New York had a deal on the table to acquire Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, and the American League Rookie of the Year Award winner had been summoned to offer his opinion.
"I said, 'Go get him,'" Judge said. "An MVP caliber player on our team? Let's do it. What can we do? We already have a great team, but adding Stanton and a couple other pieces, we're going to be great."
During that call, Cashman asked Judge how he would feel about Stanton's acquisition creating more days at designated hitter or requiring some reps in left field. Judge was receptive to both suggestions, telling the veteran general manager, "Whatever the team needs me to do; we're in here to win it."
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"He's one of our leaders, despite being so young," Cashman said. "So I remember reaching out to him prior to consummating [the Dec. 11 trade] and just floating the weather balloon. I did want to reach out to him and get a feel from his perspective, and I was excited even more so by his response."
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The bar is set high for Judge's encore, coming off a 52-homer campaign that saw him unanimously crowned as the Yanks' first Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996 while finishing second to the Astros' Jose Altuve in the AL Most Valuable Player Award race.
Now in the final stages of his rehab from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, Judge said that he is heading into this spring with much the same sentiment as he did last year, when he outplayed Aaron Hicks to win the starting right field job.
"Last year coming into camp, expectations were we were going to be one of the bottom teams in the AL East, but we surprised a lot of people," Judge said. "Now we're not going to sneak up on anybody this year, so for us it's just about playing our game and sticking to what we do well and improve off of that."
Judge and Stanton spent time side-by-side on the dais at the Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner in New York last month, where Judge picked up his Rookie of the Year Award and Stanton was presented with his National League MVP hardware.
During that black-tie event, Stanton told Judge, "Hey, I'm excited to get into the cages with you."
"That was one of the first things he said," Judge said. "'Hey man, when we get down to Tampa, let's spend some time in the cage and pick each other's brains.' … He'll have a chance to pick my brain about certain pitchers, I'll get a chance to pick his brain about certain pitchers. It's going to be nice to have another big guy in the clubhouse like that."
Judge's small-town California upbringing required some adjustments to life in New York. After eight seasons in Miami, Judge expects no such transition to be necessary for Stanton, who recently said that he couldn't wait to play under the city's "bright lights."
"Being around Stanton so far, he's ready for New York," Judge said. "He's going to fit right in on this team. We already have a good core group of young guys and he's going to fit right into it. I can already tell, just by his demeanor. He's here to win. That's all I really hear him talking about. It's going to be a fun thing we've got here."