While most New Yorkers were paying attention to all of the offseason moves that Steve Cohen and the Mets were making across town in Queens, there was another drama unfolding in the Bronx. One of the biggest questions hanging over the New York Yankees coming into the 2022 season was the status of the contract talks over an extension with their star outfielder, Aaron Judge.
Coming into the season, the team and Judge were going back on forth trying to settle on a number that would be agreeable to all parties. Judge was hoping to have everything settled by Opening Day, but that didn't happen. The Yankees had offered a seven-year, $213.5-million deal, coupled with $17 million in arbitration this season. In all, the package would've been worth just over $230 million. It would've made him the highest-paid right fielder in the sport. He was looking for money compared to some of his (albeit younger) peers. Guys like Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bryce Harper of the Philadelphia Phillies, and Manny Machado of the San Diego Padres, just to name a few. Judge turned the offer down.
Ultimately, the two sides avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $19 million dollar deal for the 2022 season. That made his manager, Aaron Boone, pretty happy. At the end of the season, Judge will become a free agent unless there can be a long-term agreement. Basically, Judge bet on himself to be able to command a higher number by the end of the season, and boy, is that gamble paying off.
After all, you don't break the American League single season home run record and not secure the bag.
Aaron Judge's Personal Home Run Derby
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With the start of the season arriving, Judge turned his focus to just playing his best each game. After carrying the Yankees to a postseason berth, it's clear he's doing just that. While he didn't come out of the gates on fire when it came to the home runs (he hit six during the month of April), he picked up the home run pace when the calendar turned to May. His monthly output essentially doubled (12 in May, 11 in June, and 13 in July, 9 in August).
The homers he's hitting aren't "Yankee Stadium Specials" either, unlike the ones off the bat of Anthony Rizzo. Many of the round-trippers are absolute moonshots. He's crushed opposing pitchers of every ilk, from rookies (like Tanner Tully of the Cleveland Guardians on April 22nd -- welcome to the bigs, kid) to wily veterans and aces (such as Alek Manoah from the Toronto Blue Jays or Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels).
Most of Judge's home runs are "no-doubters" throughout MLB stadiums. He's hit them to lead off games. He's also hit the walk-off variety. He's had multi-HR games as well. All of this in a year where home runs are down on average across the league.
Chasing Records and Joining Elite Company
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At the beginning of the year, the New York Yankees and American League single-season record was held by Roger Maris, who bashed 61 home runs in 1961. As the calendar flipped to September, it seemed obvious that Judge is going to break Maris' record. He'd become only the 5th player to hit 65 or more home runs, joining Maris, Sammy Sosa (with the Chicago Cubs), Mark McGwire (who did it twice with the St. Louis Cardinals), and Barry Bonds (with the San Francisco Giants).
There have only been eight 60-HR seasons if you add Maris' 61 and the 60 of Babe Ruth into the mix. Not bad for a guy in only his seventh season in MLB and without the aid of steroids. Aaron Judge takes that list to nine.
But the most important home runs came in Toronto and the ultimate record-breaking bash came in Texas, on the final day of the season.
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The Yankees have been carried by Judge offensively for most of the season. He's had some help along the way at times, but he's been their most consistent weapon throughout the season. He leads the team in virtually every offensive category. Any ESPN highlight reel of a Yankees game has featured Judge in some capacity. At a certain point, not getting a home run becomes a talking point on its own. His continued production is even more important during this stretch run to the playoffs.
Despite all of the Yankees post-All Star Break struggles, they have an excellent chance of reaching this year's World Series, something no Yankees team has done since 2009.
One thing is for certain - when the postseason comes to an end, Aaron Judge will likely have quite a few teams hoping to get a chance to obtain his services next year and beyond. After all, Judge enters free agency as last season's home run king and possibly the American League MVP. Back in April, he raised eyebrows when he turned down the Yankees' offer, which in hindsight, would have been a bargain for the Yanks. Given that he turned in one of the greatest offensive seasons in MLB history, the Yankees slugger is certain to get paid well.
Turns out, Aaron Judge has good judgement when it comes to understanding his value to the Yankees and to the game of baseball.
This article was originally published on August 17th, 2022, but has been updated since, as Judge continues to blast moonshots in the Bronx.
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