Aaron Judge bet on himself and it paid off in a huge contract. Judge is betting on himself again but this time he hopes the payoff will be in the form of enhancing his Yankee legacy with a championship.
Judge knew what was at stake during the free agent process. Thanks to his historic 2022 season, Judge is on the way to establishing a place in the Yankees pantheon of all time greats. That would’ve been a lot to give up.
The Yankees already added to Judge’s legacy by naming him the 16th captain in franchise history. Of the last eight Yankee captains, Don Mattingly is the only one who did not play on a Yankee championship team at any point of his career.
“This is an incredible honor that I don’t take lightly,” Judge said when he addressed the media at a press conference that was held at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday to reintroduce their star. “I look back at the list. Thurman Munson, Lou Gehrig, you know, Willie Randolph, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly. That’s a pretty good list right there.”
Randolph and surprisingly, Jeter, were both on hand to usher in the next captaincy in Yankees’ history. “He’s gonna be an outstanding captain and the players already know that,” Randolph told the YES Network.
The Yankees and their fans breathed a sigh of relief when Judge came to terms.
Before that, there was the agita that Yankee fans incurred as the result of the now infamous tweet from Jon Heyman where “Arson Judge” was headed to the San Francisco Giants. Yankee fans can look back at that with somewhat of a smile because Judge didn’t leave.
A number of teams weren’t able to compete for Judge, but he had a number of notable suitors out there, including the Giants and San Diego Padres. However, the American League’s Most Valuable Player made the decision to remain with the only team he’s ever known.
Two primary factors put Judge under an enormous amount of pressure last season. The first was before the season when he turned down the Yankees offer of seven years, $213.5 million. The second factor could not have been foreseen because it developed as the season wore on with the pursuit of Roger Maris’ American League single season home run record.
Judge handled both those obstacles perfectly, but the pressure cooker of New York won’t diminish because now, as the captain, he will be officially tasked with leading the Yankees to their next World Series appearance and next World Series win.
No one is questioning his leadership skills, but Judge has some big shoes to fill as the Yankee captain. According to his manager, Judge was already kind of a captain to his teammates, he just didn’t have the official title.
“When you see him go through a season like he just went through, an historically great season, I think pay attention to how everyone reacts to it,” Boone said. “Pay attention to how his teammates react to him. Every step of the way, I think more of them got more enjoyment out of it than probably even Aaron did.”
It would be naive to think that the big money (9 years, $360 million) didn’t play a big part in influencing his decision. He also came to the realization that he has a unique opportunity here. It’s a short list of players who have established a legacy as a homegrown Yankee and play their entire careers in the Bronx. That, as they say, is priceless.
The reason Judge is such a comfortable fit with the Yankees and New York is that he gets it.
“Getting a chance to continue something the Yankees are so big on which is legacy,” Judge said. “To get a chance to continue my legacy here in pinstripes, in the best city in the world, the best baseball city in front of the best fans, this is an incredible honor.”
Moving forward, it’s not as if the pressure will be any less for Judge next season, but it’s also up to the Yankees to take advantage of Judge’s prime years. That means putting a team out there that can get back to and win the World Series for the first time since 2009.
Judge will be a victim of his own success as he will constantly be compared to 2022. That starts with game one in 2023. He’s already earned his “New York battle scars” with the boos he heard during last season’s ALCS, but he’ll be able to handle it as evidenced that he did come back.
It takes a special player to not only survive but thrive playing here. Some players come to New York and they don’t realize how seriously the fans take their baseball around here (see: Francisco Lindor) but Judge has shown he is special.
No one can reasonably expect Judge to put up numbers like last season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have another great season. “Between the lines, like many of the great ones, like the guy [Jeter] down here towards the end of the table, they’re coming to rip your heart out. They’re playing this game with an edge and with a swagger,” Boone said.
Even with Judge signed, the Yankees still need more work.
Obviously, left field and some additional depth in the outfield is needed. With Harrison Bader on board, the Yankees shouldn’t have to use Judge as frequently in center field because it will be important to keep him fresh.
You could make the argument that the home run chase took a lot out of Judge, who did look drained at times in October, but he wasn’t getting much help from his teammates, who also had their struggles at the plate.
Oswaldo Cabrera played both right field and left field. Cabrera is a good athlete so maybe the Yankees experiment in the spring and see if he can handle some center field.
Shortstop is unsettled. Will the Yankees be comfortable with another season of Isiah Kiner-Falefa or will they commit to one of the young prospects. Oswald Peraza showed some promise in a short sample of 18 games last season. Anthony Volpe is being projected by some scouts as a second baseman but he’ll get a good look at shortstop in spring camp.
It was a feel good day for the Yankees and their fans, but spring training is fast approaching. Getting Judge back was step one but there are still crucial decisions to be made.