Aaron Judge is much more than a home run hitter, and the Yankees can’t afford to lose him – CBS Sports

Aaron Judge is much more than a home run hitter, and the Yankees can't afford to lose him - CBS Sports

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

Here’s Judge’s history-making outburst:

The 62 home runs are the seventh most 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 surpass Judge’s total. Here is the AL’s new single-season home run leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge, 2022 yankees: 62 and counting
  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 so, but Judge is much more than a home run hitter. He is in the mix for a batting title and the Triple Crownhe played most of the season in center field (and played it well), and he also has 16 stolen bases. Judge is baseball’s first 11-hit player since Bonds in 2004.

“I tune it,” Judge recently told MLB.com about all the attention. “I try to stay away from all that stuff 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 coaches, that’s what matters to me.”

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

  1. Blue jays: 46-29
  2. Orioles: 41-34
  3. Radios: 42-36
  4. Yankees: 38-38
  5. Red Socks: 31-45

On July 8, the Yankees led the AL East by 15 1/2 games. The lead was cut to 3 1/2 games as recently as September 9th. The Yankees were able to right the ship a bit within these last three weeks and they recently clinched the AL East title, as well as a Wild Card Series bye. However, 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 these past three months despite Judge’s extraordinary greatness is a damning indictment of the rest of the roster. Judge has hit .345/.494/.769 since our magic date of July 8. The rest of the Yankees have hit .231/.304/.374, which is worse than the .243/.311/.395 league average. despite the Yankees playing their home games in home run-happy Yankee Stadium.

Wake up call is not the right word. The Yankees know they need a judge. Their recent play is more like a reminder of just 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 a track record of MVP-caliber seasons. Losing the 2021 version of Judge would also be devastating.

New York’s outfield picture after 2022 includes Harrison Bader and that’s true. Giancarlo Stanton is the all-time DH and Andrew Benintendi will join Judge in free agency after the World Series. Aaron Hicks apparently played his way out of town as well. Oswaldo Cabrera, a natural infielder, has taken care of the outfield in recent weeks. The outfield picture without Judge is bleak.

The upcoming free agent class includes some quality everyday outfielders (Benintendi, Mitch Haniger, Brandon Nimmo, etc.) but none on Judge’s level. To replace him, the Yankees would have to take the old one Moneyball approach Like the Athletics replacing Jason Giambi, the Yankees would have to upgrade 3-4 positions and replace Judge altogether, and that is very difficult.

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 a similarly effective marketing campaign around Stanton or Gerrit Cole or Anthony Volpe. No offense to them, but it can’t be done.

Judge sells tickets, and when you sell tickets, you also sell concessions and merchandise. Judge also drives TV ratings, and when you do that, you increase ad sales. To that:

When the Yankees offered Judge a $213.5 million extension this spring, they did it because their internal analysis said it would make them heaps more in revenue. Extending Judge will be a business decision as much as it is a baseball decision.

“We’re all disappointed now that we can’t talk about a contract extension today. Not now, but hopefully later,” GM Brian Cashman said after a judge rejected the extension in spring training. “…Both sides would love to be here. I don’t think Aaron Judge wants to be anywhere but here, and we’d love to make that happen, too.”

Without Judge the Yankees would probably be fighting for a wild card spot rather than celebrating a division title, and seeing as how they have the oldest collection of position players in baseball, there isn’t much upside on the roster. Add in the off-field impact and losing Judge to free agency would be a double whammy. The Yankees would be worse on the field and make less money.

There is always a point where it makes sense to leave. The bidding war could fizzle out — all it takes is one desperate general manager and/or owner to split the works — and reach a point where it makes sense for the Yankees to pivot and use their dollars elsewhere. I suspect that point is much higher with Judge than with most players, though.

Currently, Judge is the new home run king of the American League, and his unmatched greatness helped the Yankees prevent the biggest division collapse in baseball history (no team blew more than a 13-game lead). His value to the franchise transcends his field production and the Yankees cannot afford to lose him to free agency, for more reasons than one.

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