5 big questions raised by Judge's massive deal

December 8th, 2022

At the end of the day, Aaron Judge had to stay a Yankee, didn’t he? Whatever changes the organization may or may not have gone through over the last decade, if the Yankees -- the Yankees! -- were outspent on their best, most beloved, most iconic player … well, would they even be the Yankees anymore?

We don’t have to ask that question, because the Yankees ended up stepping forward with a deal that MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported will be worth $360 million over nine years. The club has not confirmed the deal.

When a deal like this happens, there are reverberations that echo throughout the sport. Here are five questions we’re now pondering in the wake of this deal.

1. So what do the Giants do now?
On Tuesday night, thanks to a scattering of reports, it sure looked like Aaron Judge was going to be a San Francisco Giant. It obviously did not turn out that way, but you can absolutely see why the Giants pushed so hard: It sure does look like they have a giant Aaron Judge-sized hole in their lineup. While the Giants might benefit in, say, 2031, by not having an old Judge, they definitely could have used this version. There are no players like Judge on the market -- there are no players like Judge in the sport -- but the Giants desperately need to find some more bats, and soon. Because they look like a third-place team right now, and maybe a fourth-place one. Pivoting to one of the available free-agent shortstops seems like a distinct possibility.

2. What about the rest of the NL West?
There were three teams widely thought to be the most in on Judge: The Yankees, the Giants and the Dodgers. It turned out that the Padres made a big offer late as well. Can you imagine if the Padres would have gotten Judge? Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Judge and Fernando Tatis Jr.? Yikes! It didn’t happen, obviously, but it speaks to how much the NL West has become the AL East: Just highly motivated superpowers taking huge swings at each other. If those teams are trying to get Judge, that means they’re going to end up with someone (and the Padres did, in the end, wind up landing Xander Bogaerts). This might be the most fascinating division in baseball. Put it this way: No one is ceding anything to the Dodgers. As if things weren’t challenging enough for the D-backs and Rockies.

3. Are the Red Sox going to respond?
On one hand, you can argue that the Yankees' signing of Judge to a massive long-term contract is in fact an endorsement of the Red Sox’s more cautious approach. As much as Judge is an impact player now, it’s not unreasonable to think that impact will have dwindled significantly as he approaches 40 and is still making major dollars. Letting the Yankees go nuts spending-wise makes some sense, particularly as the luxury-tax penalties keep increasing. But on the other hand … when are the Red Sox going to do something big? They are, historically, supposed to match the Yankees punch for punch on these sort of moves. There was some buzz that Boston was making a push to retain Bogaerts, which would have at least sent a message that the Red Sox are prepared to continue to try to match their rivals in New York, but Bogaerts ended up agreeing to an 11-year deal with the Padres. Do the Sox now take a look at Carlos Correa or Dansby Swanson? And what does this mean for Rafael Devers, who can be a free agent next offseason?

Whether you classify the Masataka Yoshida deal as a “major” deal, or any sort of response to the Judge signing, may depend on how dialed into big city tabloid culture you are. It’s not nothing! He’s good! But this is still a proxy war, and while the Red Sox don’t want the signing to feel like a counteroffensive … it will feel that way to many. And it will feel (fairly or unfairly) like a meager one.

4. Where does this leave Ohtani?
Shohei Ohtani just had a year that was nearly as good as Judge’s historic season -- and there are even some who think it was better -- and he’s got one year to go until he hits the free-agent market himself. Ohtani is nearly two years younger than Judge is, which means he’ll be a year younger than Judge is now when he's on the market. Oh, and in addition to all the homers, it turns out he’s a really good pitcher. This is all to say: Could Ohtani beat Judge’s figure next year? He might, right? Though it will definitely help if he, like Judge, has the greatest year of his career right as he’s becoming a free agent.

Subplot to watch: Given that the Yankees and the Mets have made huge deals this week that could presumably limit their payroll flexibility in the near term, how does that affect their ability to pursue Ohtani if he becomes a free agent?

5. Uh, are the Yankees better right now than they were in September?
Here’s the weird part about the Yankees signing one of baseball’s biggest stars to the largest free-agent contract ever: I’m not sure they’re actually better than they were down the stretch in 2022, when Judge was carrying them as everything else seemed to collapse. And they still seem to have a lot of holes on this roster. They look short an outfielder, a third baseman (can they trade Josh Donaldson’s contract?), a shortstop (until Anthony Volpe is ready anyway) and probably a pitcher or two.

Now, obviously, it would be a lot worse without Judge. But there’s still a lot of work to be done here. They do know, at least, that they have their superstar as a Yankee for life. That’s probably the way it was always supposed to be.