Yankees keep their superstar in Aaron Judge — now it's time to name him captain
Maybe the Yankees are still the Yankees, after all. When they agreed to a record nine-year, $360 million free agent contract with Aaron Judge, they didn’t let a Mount Rushmore-esque player get away over a few bucks or a year or two of commitment.
It’s a great deal for a guy who bet on himself by spurning the (underwhelming) extension offer the Yankees made last spring – Judge made $146.5 million more than that original contract – and a necessary deal for the Yankees. They frankly would have struggled to score runs or draw eyeballs next season without the man who hit an AL-record 62 home runs in the greatest walk year in the history of walk years.
And the reports of Judge turning down more cash elsewhere – the Padres offered $400 million over 10 years, according to USA Today – indicate that the lure of pinstripes lore still exists, at least for legacy players like Judge.
He’s now in position to do special things for what’s been, historically, a special franchise. No one is saying he’s the next Lou Gehrig or Derek Jeter, but he’s now likely a Yankee-for-life, forever to dwell among some of the biggest names in baseball annals.
So the Yankees should lean in on all this history. Their next move should be to name Judge the first Yankee captain since Jeter, something that’s been buzzing around baseball since Judge’s record-setting season and something SNY's Andy Martino is hearing is "likely." Hey Hal Steinbrenner, how about you do it at the very news conference announcing this megadeal? It’d turn this winter into a Yankee holiday season.
It would also be a nice gesture after the way the Yankees bungled the aftermath of their seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer last spring. After Judge refused it, GM Brian Cashman went public with the numbers, rankling Judge. Even if Cashman was not purposefully trying to make Judge look bad, he had to know it would have that effect – most workaday Joes would be outraged by someone passing up that fortune to play baseball. And Judge believed there was an element of the Yanks trying to turn fans against him.
The captaincy is serious business in Yankeeland. It’s a post previously held by beloved Yanks such as Gehrig, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly and would enhance Judge’s status in pinstripes.
He’s the ideal candidate, too, with obvious leadership skills and his status as a great player. Plus, the Yanks drafted and developed Judge and he worked his way into becoming a superstar. Last year, he conquered a hallowed Yankee record by hitting 62 homers, one more than Roger Maris did in 1961 and more than Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle ever hit in one season. Judge even seemed to enjoy his magical history tour through the Yankee record books, genuflecting at the boldface names to come before him.
Of course, inking Judge and making him captain are not the only things Cashman and Steinbrenner must accomplish this winter. They’ve got more work to do on the roster to catch up to the Astros and ward off other hopeful teams. Sure, they’ve got some other shiny baubles on the roster already – Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Giancarlo Stanton (when healthy) – but they’ve now given Judge the largest free-agent contract in MLB history, $30 million more than the one the Phillies gave Bryce Harper. Judge’s average annual value of $40 million is the most ever given to a position player.
The pressure is on. They could use some starting pitching – Carlos Rodón, anyone? Better contact hitting is necessary, considering the whiff-a-thon the Yanks put on in October.
And Judge, as terrific as he is, does not come without risk. He’s played 305 of a possible 324 regular-season games over the past two seasons, but he’s missed time with injuries in the past. He’ll be 31 in April and the north side of 30 is not exactly when durability generally blooms.
This all comes at a fascinating time in Yankee history. Many of their fans are angry at the brain trust, because the Yanks have not won or even been to the World Series since 2009 and seem to be slipping further behind Houston each October. Cashman’s new contract extension was the first major move of the Yankee offseason, a move noted with displeasure in some corners of social media.
So their mandate to win is even louder now. Re-signing Judge is a start to lessening the din. Really, though, the best way to convince everyone the Yankees are still the Yankees is to do whatever else it takes to win, too.