- Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
- Analyst/reporter ESPN television
- Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”
The long-standing refrain about baseball free agents is that it takes just one aggressive owner to change everything. Arte Moreno swooped in to sign Albert Pujols for the Angels. The Mariners, needing a franchise reset in the moment, stunned other clubs by landing Robinson Cano for a 10-year, $240 million contract. The Mets’ Steve Cohen, hell-bent on winning a World Series, landed Max Scherzer last winter for a record-setting $43 million salary.
Assuming Aaron Judge reaches free agency — there are no ongoing contract talks between he and the Yankees, and the two sides are scheduled for an arbitration hearing Friday after failing to come to terms on his 2022 salary — he may inspire that kind of frenzied response from one or more owners and land a contract way beyond the $213.5 million offer the slugger rejected in the spring.
Judge is having the kind of monster season that could check just about every box a billionaire owner might have. Yes, his production is difference-making; he’s the early front-runner to win the AL Most Valuable Player Award. Yes, he is a strong defender, with the sort of athleticism that may help him remain effective deep into a long-term contract. Yes, he has a big brand, as literally the biggest player in the history of Major League Baseball — someone who has worked and thrived in the league’s biggest market. Yes, he’s perceived as a really nice guy, a good teammate; he’s very likely to gracefully handle the responsibility of being the face of any franchise. He’d probably slam dunk any meeting with any interested owner.
And yes, he has remained relatively injury-free, at least throughout 2021 and through the first third of 2022. The last time he was on a non-COVID injured list was in September 2020.
With all that in mind, here’s an assessment of which teams might be willing to alter the salary landscape with a whopper offer to Judge.
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