How does Aaron Judge top his MVP 2022 season?

TAMPA — Aaron Judge was one of the last to leave the Yankees’ clubhouse that final night back in October. The slugger soaked in the quiet aftermath of losing the American League Championship Series, his historic season ended by the Astros for the third time in six years.

In those moments, the 2023 season began for Judge and the Yankees. Judge re-signed with New York last winter to a record nine-year, $360 million deal in part because he had the “unfinished business” of never even winning an AL pennant in pinstripes. Judge, who made history when he hit 62 home runs in 2022 and was named the AL MVP, began thinking about what he needed to do to finally win a World Series.

“That silence in that clubhouse after those losses is probably the worst feeling a ballplayer could have. You don’t know what to say, you don’t know what to do,” Judge said Monday at George M. Steinbrenner field after the Yankees’ first full-squad spring training workout.

“All of a sudden you’re going from every day preparing for this game and the most important game of your life to you’re done. So from that moment try to reflect on the game, how can I improve now? But then I went straight to work.”

The Yankees went to work this winter to try and get to their first World Series since 2009 by bringing Judge back and making him the 16th captain in team history. They added left-hander Carlos Rodón to a rotation that already includes Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino and Nestor Cortes. They didn’t add a leftfielder and are letting their prospects battle for their starting shortstop spot.

So it’s fair to ask if they did enough. Judge is optimistic.

“You add Carlos Rodón into the mix at the top of our rotation and that plays a big part of it. I think pitching and defense win ball games,” Judge said. “We have a balanced lineup I think with a lot of young guys we have coming up fighting for shortstop, fighting for leftfield. There’s quite a few opportunities for some guys with great bat-to-ball skills, great defensive skills and the rotation we have. We’re going to be in a good position moving forward.”

Judge is arguably the most interesting player heading into this season. Last year, he broke the 61-year old American League record for single-season home runs, formerly held by the Yankees’ Roger Maris. He carried New York’s offense and pushed the team to the American League East division title.

His manager has no doubt that Judge will find a way to amaze again this year.

“If he’s keeping healthy, greatness will find its way,” Aaron Boone said. “Whether it’s 62 homers again, or whatever it is, if he’s healthy, he’s gonna go out there and have an MVP-caliber season.”

Judge would not shy away from another home run chase.

“I don’t really like putting a number on it,” he said. “I just kind of like going out there trying to control what I control. And you never know what could happen. So we’ll see about 62.”

Judge didn’t really spend much time thinking about that home run record. But he thought about those silent moments after the season ended.

“Every year that we don’t finish what we started, it wears on us in different ways. Each season is a little different, whether it’s getting kicked out of the wild-card game, to the LCS Game Seven to losing in the ALDS. They all sting in different ways,” he said, “but I think every failure kind of pushes you towards a goal of finding what works and will put us over the edge.”

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