Aaron Judge Is Ready to Make a Big Splash in Free Agency

It’s that time of year again. Along with awards week, free agency is often something most fans and analysts mark on their calendars. It’s always interesting to see what rumors might surface regarding one of your team’s best free agents. One of the ten best free agents is already off the board as Edwin Díaz agreed to a massive 5-year/$102 million deal with the New York Mets. The deal is the largest-ever contract for a reliever, and it likely indicates an offseason of huge spending from teams in the first full offseason under the new CBA. With Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, and Trea Turner, among others, there is no shortage of superstars on the market this winter who are sure to receive massive paydays.

Long Before Judge’s Historical Season

The pressure was on once Aaron Judge declined the 7-year/$213.5 million extension offered by the New York Yankees before the start of the season. Even as a player who only had two fully healthy seasons under his belt before 2022, the amount of talent and skill Judge possesses is clear. This notion clears both the eye test and the numbers test. Despite missing so much time, Judge still ranked 3rd in the American League with 24.8 fWAR between 2017-2021, right behind José Ramírez and Mike Trout. Combining his all-around ability with a sheer offensive skillset that should age very well, his decision to turn down the $213.5 million offer was logical. He was sure at least to clear the $250 million threshold in free agency, even if he mirrored his 2021 season in 2022.

All Judge did was break a 61-year-old record by hitting 62 home runs this year and putting up the best season this sport has seen since the peak of Barry Bonds. Albert Pujols dominated the 2000s; after him, Mike Trout dominated the 2010s. However, neither ever put up a season as good as Judge as it could be underselling to say that Judge had the best platform season ever. With further proof, he led the majors in nearly every offensive statistical category, put up an absurd 11.4 fWAR, and did it all this year as a primary center fielder for the Yankees. It’s hard to find words to properly summarize what Judge accomplished this year, although one must try.

History into Context

There’s proof that Judge ranked at or near the top of every statistical category. It can be argued that he had one of the best offensive seasons in baseball history. In addition, with Judge’s efforts, the game of baseball is as talented now as it has ever been. The shift or three true outcomes is not why hitters collectively put up a worse batting average than the supposed “year of the pitcher” in 1968. The league batting average in 1968 was .237 in 1968…and that’s before you account for the fact that pitchers were hitting as well. In 2022, it was .243, with no pitchers hitting as the league adopted a universal DH rule. In modern-day baseball, it is a fact that pitchers are throwing harder and spinning the ball more than ever, leading to more strikeouts, fewer balls in play, and weaker overall contact.

This type of context makes Judge’s season look even more impressive. He batted .311 while walking at a 15.9% clip, despite still striking over 25.1% of the time. Strikeouts are a part of the game, and they are inevitable. The fact that Judge spent most of his season batting either first or second in the order would make Babe Ruth turn in his grave. Despite this, he drove in 131 runs and was on a team whose overall offense struggled at major points in the second half. There’s even more proof to state that Judge put his team on his back in the second half. He may have struggled in the playoffs, but so did the rest of his team, and that should not sway the interest multiple teams have for him in free agency.

Best Contract Comparison

One of the best recent free agent comparisons for Aaron Judge is the contract Anthony Rendon signed with the Los Angeles Angels back in 2019. He signed for 7-years and $245 million, which averages out to $35 million per year. This gave Rendon the second-highest average annual value, behind Trout’s $36 million yearly. However, Trout’s contract was an extension he signed before 2019 when he was 28.

Rendon’s contract is a good comparison for multiple reasons. One, he was entering his age-30 season in free agency as Judge is entering his age-31 season. Additionally, their performance in the four years leading up to free agency is eerily similar. From 2016 through 2019, Rendon put up a 22.2 fWAR, while Judge put up a 22.3 fWAR from 2019 through 2022. Even though Judge has the shortened 2020 season, he only played in 28 of 60 games, making that year a wash regardless.

Both players have injury histories that may have scared some teams, yet they put up MVP-caliber seasons in their platform years, putting them in prime position to earn a massive contract. Rendon finished 3rd in NL MVP voting in 2019, while Judge is the favorite to win his first AL MVP next week. Rendon has never had the type of power that Judge has but always possessed greater bat-to-ball skills than Judge. Regardless, the 2022 season Judge had makes it likely he will blow past Rendon’s $35mil AAV and even Trout’s $36mil AAV out of the water this winter.

Contract Prediction

While it is safe to assume the Yankees are front runners right now to return him, they are letting him explore his options instead of immediately offering a contract he cannot refuse right from the jump. There is no doubt Judge and his camp wants the highest position player, AAV, while always crossing the $300 million threshold. While the latter seemed unlikely 6 months away, it seems like a no-doubter now. Will Judge take a high AAV contract for 4 or 5 years, or will he try to find a deal that ends up in the 8 or 9 years range? Regardless, the San Francisco Giants and a few other teams have all been rumored to have an interest in Judge. However, only one team can come out on top in the Aaron Judge sweepstakes.

Prediction: Aaron Judge re-signs with the New York Yankees for 8 years/$320 million

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Players mentioned:

Aaron Judge, Edwin Díaz, Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Anthony Rendon, José Ramírez, Mike Trout, Babe Ruth