Judge excited to see what Yanks' new lineup can do

February 21st, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. -- was all smiles near home plate at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday, enjoying the company of a star-studded hitting group that included , and . There were plenty of laughs and line drives, a tantalizing preview of the season ahead.

Though the Yankees captain is pleased with the club’s winter remodeling, he’s also well aware that several prominent free agents remain available, including reigning National League Cy Young Award winner . As such, Judge would welcome at least one more addition before Opening Day.

“I hope so. They're always working on something,” Judge said on Tuesday. “That's what’s amazing about being here with the Yankees. They're always trying to improve. They're always trying to make moves, be it a trade or free agency. I definitely feel like there might be another move on the way, but you never know. We'll see.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has said that the club remains open to additions that make sense, noting that the club has not put “pencils down.” MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand has reported that the Yankees have an offer on the table for Snell, who reportedly turned down a five-year, $150 million proposal from the Bombers during the offseason.

Here are five more takeaways from Judge’s meeting with the media:

“Incredible potential”
Judge lauded the “diversity” that outfielders Soto, Verdugo and Trent Grisham promise to bring to the lineup. Judge was impressed by his first glimpse of Soto’s work ethic, noting that his day seemed to begin earlier than most; when Judge arrived around 7 a.m., Soto was already in the batting cage.

“He’s a generational talent, what he brings to the game in that box,” Judge said. “He’s got such a great demeanor -- the swagger, the focus. He’s prepared every single pitch. … It's just going to be an impressive lineup, and I think we're just truly going to feed off each other.”

Judge said that while he’d try to entice Soto to re-sign with the Yankees long-term, he expects the Bronx to play a significant role: “I think the fans are going to show up [for the Yankee Stadium home opener on] April 5 and do a lot of convincing, too.”

The three-hole
Judge has not been shy about pestering manager Aaron Boone regarding his preference for the No. 3 spot in the Yanks’ lineup, which he believes would follow DJ LeMahieu and Soto. Most of Judge’s career at-bats have come as the No. 2 hitter, but he expects to see more traffic on the basepaths if he hits third.

“It might be a little old-school thinking on my part,” Judge said. “But some of the guys I watched growing up, the best hitters were hitting third and the run producers were three and four. I don’t know why it means so much to me. I just want to find a way to help the team, any way I can. If that’s me hitting third, it’s me hitting third.”

The Toe-night Show
While the Yankees would love to forget about most of their 2023 season, we probably haven’t heard the last of the torn ligament in Judge’s right big toe, which cost him 42 games after a spectacular catch at Dodger Stadium in June. Judge avoided surgery, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer an issue.

“It’s going to be a constant maintenance, I think, the rest of my career,” Judge said. “Anything with injuries like that, you’ve just got to stay on top of it so it doesn’t flare up again. [I’m] feeling good right now, we’re out there moving, so we’re going to try to keep it going.”

Judge later added: “I keep getting hurt in right field. I think that's why they moved me to center field.”

Higher ground
During the offseason, Judge and ace Gerrit Cole both communicated with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner concerning the team’s direction, specifically regarding the delivery and use of analytics. Judge said he is pleased with the Yanks’ coaching changes, specifically mentioning the return of hitting coach James Rowson to the organization.

“He challenges me every single day,” Judge said of Rowson. “We go back and forth on things, which is great, and I love it. I think he’s just going to elevate this team and elevate everybody in our lineup to go out there and do their best. That’s what I’ve always loved about him, just his energy, his passion for the game. He just gets the most out of the player.”

Head start
Judge was among several Yankees who began their training programs at the club’s player development complex in January. He sensed that the Yanks’ 82-80, fourth-place finish in 2023 had served as “a wake-up call.”

“A lot of guys were embarrassed. A lot of guys didn't have the season they wanted,” Judge said. “I think collectively as a group, we looked at each other like, ‘This can't happen again.’... It shows this is a dedicated group, a group that wants to go out here and right the ship.”

Asked if Soto could help Judge improve upon his 62-homer performance in 2022, Judge replied: “We'll see. I think my best season will be when we're holding up that trophy.”