The new contract for Aaron Judge, as long as one of the home runs that just made him as rich as he is, was only one of the most important signings for the Yankees at the Winter Meetings. The other, equally important if the Yankees want to finally win again and that means win a World Series, was Hal Steinbrenner bringing back his general manager, Brian Cashman.
Cashman’s previous contract ended after last season the way Judge’s did. His new one is for four years, and it takes him through the 2026 season. Once, the Yankees went between 1978 and 1996 without winning the World Series, a record for them in the last century. Now they haven’t won since 2009. It means that if they haven’t made it back to the Canyon of Heroes by the time Cashman’s new contract ends, they will be looking to tie a record the Yankees never dreamt they would tie when Cashman first became the Yankees GM.
That was when the Yankees team originally built by Gene Michael was in the process of winning four World Series in five years and playing in a sixth against the D-backs, one they were leading in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 before almost everything that could have gone wrong did -- even with Mariano Rivera on the mound.
So now Cashman, who has been around since those late '90s and presided over a Yankees team that never has a losing season, is the one who steps to the plate. Yankees fans know what Judge can do -- they just saw it the way we all did as he had a season that was part Babe Ruth from the '20s and part Mickey Mantle when he was winning his Triple Crown in 1956. Now they want to see if Cashman can assemble another Yankees team good enough to once again win it all.
The Yankees did hold on to Judge this week, for dear life, and Cashman gave much of the credit to his owner for closing the deal when the Yankees had kept Judge from going to the Giants or the Padres.
“Hal Steinbrenner has been the tip of the spear with this one,” Cashman said. “Our organization has tried to stay connected in every way possible, and Hal Steinbrenner directly with Aaron Judge as well to make sure that there was going to be no stone unturned, and there was no effort missed in our discussions. When Aaron Judge makes a final decision of what he wants to do with his professional career, as he moves forward, that there would be nothing left unsaid, or nothing left undid.”
Yankees fans have watched Cashman and Steinbrenner spend big money before -- it was at the Winter Meetings in 2019 that Gerrit Cole became a Yankee on a contract just as long as Judge’s and almost as lucrative at $324 million -- then watching their team fall short of even making it to the World Series. Over the past six years, this has happened against the backdrop of the Astros winning two World Series and playing in two others and beating the Yankees three times in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees do not lose their best player now, who also became the best player in baseball this past season. They still need a lot more than Judge, even if they did win the AL East in 2022 and manage to get by the Guardians in a five-game Division Series in which they trailed two games to one. They will be looking to head off the Blue Jays in the East, and find ways to get better than the Astros, even if Houston did just lose Justin Verlander. And it is highly unlikely that the Guardians, who just added Josh Bell, are going away, not with all of their young talent on the field.
The Yankees still have 37-year-old Josh Donaldson on the books at $21 million for 2023. No one is sure who their Opening Day shortstop -- incumbent Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Oswald Peraza or Oswaldo Cabrera or even top prospect Anthony Volpe -- is going to be. Anthony Benintendi is still out there as a free agent, and so is Brandon Nimmo -- even with the way Harrison Bader played in October. There are still big questions about DJ LeMahieu’s foot, and whether the Yankees still believe Gleyber Torres is the long-term answer at second base.
The best free-agent starter still on the market, of course, is Carlos Rodón, who would go nicely in the Yankees’ rotation just because he would go nicely in anybody’s. The Yankees need bullpen help just because everybody does.
The Yankees looked like as much of a powerhouse as anybody the first half of last season. Because of injuries, and what looked like a massive market correction, it sometimes looked as if Judge was all they had the second half of the season. Then he placed as great a bet on himself as any ballplayer ever has, and watched it pay off this week. In a lot of ways, Hal Steinbrenner places as big a bet now on his general manager. And he hopes that Cashman, a former second baseman at Catholic University, has an Aaron Judge season of his own, at long last.