Aaron Judge is more than a home hitter, and the Yankees can’t afford to lose him

There’s a new home run king in the American League. On Tuesday night, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run in 2022, a new single-season record on the 122-year-old junior circuit. The previous record was, of course, 61 home runs by Roger Maris in 1961.

Here’s Judge’s historic outburst:

The 62 circuits are the seventh in history. Barry Bonds is the all-time leader with 73 in 2001. Mark McGwire (70 in 1998 and 65 in 1999) and Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998, 64 in 2001 and 63 in 1999) are the only others to lead the total of judges. Here are the AL’s new single-season home run rankings:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees 2022: 62 and over
  2. Roger Maris, 1961 Yankees: 61
  3. Babe Ruth, 1927 Yankees: 60
  4. Babe Ruth, 1921 Yankees: 59
  5. Jimmie Foxx, 1932 Athletics and Hank Greenberg, 1938 Tigers: 58

Home run records get all the attention and understandably, but Judge is so much more than a home run hitter. He’s in the mix for a batting title and the Triple Crown, he played most of the season in center field (and played it well), and he also has 16 stolen bases. Judge is the first baseball player to 11 WARS since Bonds in 2004.

“I don’t know,” Judge told MLB.com recently of all the attention. “I try to stay away from all that as much as possible. If you have a bad game, they’re going to say something. You have a good game, they’re going to say something. I just focus on what I have to do here, focus on helping this team. The opinions of my teammates and my coaches are what matter to me.”

Judge’s historic season couldn’t have come at a better time, for both him and the Yankees. He will be a free agent in a few weeks and his next contract exceeds 300 million dollars. As for the Yankees, they had an uneven season and nearly crashed out of the AL East lead completely. New York is 38-38 since peaking at 61-23 on July 8. The AL East standings since then:

  1. Blue jays: 46-29
  2. Oriole: 41-34
  3. Rays: 42-36
  4. Yankees: 38-38
  5. Red Sox: 31-45

On July 8, the Yankees led the AL East by 15½ games. The lead was reduced to 3½ games as recently as September 9. The Yankees have managed to right the ship somewhat over the past three weeks and they recently clinched the AL East title, as well as a Wild Card Series bye. Still, the fact that they had to sweat a little is not something they expected a few months ago.

That the Yankees have faded so much in the past three months despite Judge’s singular greatness is a damning indictment for the rest of the roster. The judge has reached 0.345/0.494/0.769 since our magic date on July 8. The rest of the Yankees hit .231/.304/.374, which is worse than the league average of .243/.311/.395. despite the Yankees playing their home games in Yankee Stadium, a happy home run.

Wake up call is not the right word. The Yankees know they need Judge. Their recent game feels more like a reminder of how much they need him. Judge is the best player in baseball right now and, by definition, that makes him irreplaceable. Even if he never repeats 2022, Judge has an MVP-caliber season record. Losing the 2021 version of Judge would also be devastating.

The New York outfield picture beyond 2022 includes Harrison Bader and that’s really it. Giancarlo Stanton is a DH most of the time and Andrew Benintendi will join Judge in free agency after the World Series. Aaron Hicks apparently also played his way out of town. Oswaldo Cabrera, a natural infielder, has been busy in the outfield for the past few weeks. The picture of the judgeless outfield is bleak.

The next class of free agents includes a few quality everyday outfielders (Benintendi, Mitch Haniger, Brandon Nimmo, etc.), but none at the judge level. To replace him, the Yankees should take the old silver ball approach. Like the Athletics replacing Jason Giambi, the Yankees should upgrade 3-4 positions and replace Judge overall, and that’s very tough.

There is also an off-field component to consider. Judge is the Yankees’ biggest draw since Derek Jeter — No. 99 jerseys now outnumber No. 2 jerseys at Yankee Stadium — and there’s no replacing that star power. Good luck building an equally effective marketing campaign around Stanton, Gerrit Cole or Anthony Volpe. Don’t offend them, but it can’t be done.

The judge sells tickets, and when you sell tickets, you also sell concessions and merchandise. Judge also increases TV ratings and by doing so you increase ad sales. Witness it:

When the Yankees offered Judge a $213.5 million extension this spring, they did it because their internal analysis said it would make them multitudes more revenue. The judge’s extension will be a business decision as much as a baseball decision.

“We are all disappointed at the moment that we cannot talk about a contract extension today. Not now, but hopefully later,” General manager Brian Cashman says after judge overturns spring training extension. “…Both parties would like to be here. I think Aaron Judge doesn’t want to be anywhere but here, and we would like that to happen as well.”

Without the judge, the Yankees would likely be battling for a wild card spot rather than celebrating a division title, and considering how they have the oldest collection of positional players in baseball, there’s not much advantage over the list. Adding the off-court impact and losing the judge to free agency would be a double whammy. The Yankees would be worse on the field and make less money.

There’s always a time when it makes sense to walk away. The bidding war could spin out of control — all it takes is a desperate GM and/or owner to block the works — and reach a point where it makes sense for the Yankees to pivot and use their dollars elsewhere. However, I suspect that point is much higher with Judge than with most players.

For now, Judge is the American League’s new home run king, and his unparalleled greatness has helped the Yankees avoid the biggest division collapse in baseball history (no team has lost more than 13 matches in advance). His value to the franchise transcends his production on the field, and the Yankees can’t afford to lose him to free agency, for more than one reason.

Add Comment