Aaron Judge was the subject of brief talks between the Yankees and Angels during the offseason. Why not expand those talks – what’s to lose?
Trading someone like Aaron Judge, arguably the face of the Yankee’s team is never an easy thing to do. But it does happen more often than we think.
In just the past year, players of an equal or higher caliber than Judge have been traded by their team.
Francisco Lindor (Cleveland to the Mets), Nolan Arenado (the Rockies to the Cardinals), Yu Darvish (Cubs to the Padres), Blake Snell (Rays to the Padres), and Mookie Betts (Red Sox to the Dodgers) have all been thought to be untouchable at some point in their career – yet here they are with new teams today.
If you go back to review the caliber of players received for their services, we quickly see it’s a mixture of top and middle line prospects and an occasional mid-level major league talent.
But none of those trades qualify as “blockbusters” where one superstar is traded for another, as if, for example, the Betts trade included Corey Seager in return from the Dodgers.
Aaron Judge Trade Talk: It Was Only A “Flirtation”
Back to Aaron Judge and the report from usually reliable Buster Olney that the Angels and Yankees engaged in talks that were brief and contained “the lightest of flirtations.”
Putting aside for the moment why the Yankees might wish to trade Aaron Judge, consider that trades of this magnitude often begin with a casual chat.
That can go on for weeks and months, much like a Lego set that eventually becomes a skyscraper.
So that the dialog between Angel’s GM Perry Minasian and Yankee’s GM Brian Cashman takes shape like this:
Minasian: “Hey Brian, are you still interested in moving, Judge?”
Minasian: “Well, Ohtani’s out, but we are ready to move Player X, and you know the year he’s having.”
Cashman: “Let me look into that, and I’ll get back to you.”
From there, the exchange continues as the original flirtation turns into a date. Finally, a full-blown relationship that constitutes a deal, as the idea of trading a Yankee icon like Aaron Judge becomes entirely feasible in the mind of Brian Cashman.
Now, why would Cashman make that determination?
Aaron Judge: Weighing The Pros And Cons
Doesn’t the first question have to be what are the Yankees really losing at this point in Judge’s career – aside from the wrath of fans in Judge’s Chambers at Yankee Stadium?
If the Yankees keep him, Aaron Judge will be 31 when he reaches free agency after the 2022 season.
For this year, Judge and the always generous Yankees in arbitration cases agreed to a one-year deal worth $10,175,000. Eligible for a final time, Judge’s third-year arbitration can expect to yield an additional three to five million in salaries for 2022.
When healthy, Judge is a premier defender in right field and one of the most feared batters in the American League every time he steps to the plate.
When healthy, of course, is the operative phrase when it comes to Aaron Judge. The Yankees surely like to recall his golden year in 2017 when he mashed 52 home runs with a 1.049 OPS to go with them.
But the looming question in baseball is and has to be – what have you done for me lately?
Healthy enough, having appeared in 19 games this season, Judge’s production hasn’t been there as the Yankees struggle to get off the ground offensively this season.
Four home runs, 8 RBI, together with a .449 slugging percentage that is almost 200 points below his 2017 level, is nothing to write home about.
Production aside, though, the real question facing the Yankees is how much will Judge cost them over the long term in return for the crop they reap.
By Judge’s free-agent year, and assuming the status quo remains, here’s a glimpse into the Yankee’s committed payroll for 2023.
Of Course, It’s Always About The Money
My quick math says that’s about $111 million, without Judge’s – what? – $18-20 million added in…for one year with plus (assuming) multiple years via a new contract added on for the future…
So, when you begin to add up the plusses and minuses on Aaron Judge, what do we, and more significantly the Yankees, arrive at for a total?
You can look at Aaron Judge as a gloried version of Greg Bird, Kevin Maas, and maybe even Gleyber Torres all rolled into one, where despite all the potential and for one reason or another, things just haven’t worked out.
So, if Brian Cashman had an inkling of thought when, reportedly, he spoke to someone connected to the Angels about moving Aaron Judge, then what is there to lose by expanding and continuing those thoughts – now and shortly?
Ideally, the Angels or another American League team would bite at Stanton instead of Judge. Still, it appears the Yankees are stuck with Giancarlo unless they are (literally) willing to give him away while taking on the bulk of his future salaries.
Instead, Aaron Judge is a clean slate to work with. He doesn’t have the baggage of an inflated contract (yet). But fast-forward three or five years when he’s 33 or 34 – and what do the Yankees have but another Stanton?
Any of the West Coast teams in the AL are a suitable landing place for Judge, and there’s always the Dodgers and Padres who can’t seem to stop themselves from getting better.
But with the Yankee’s disappointed fanbase looming in Brian Cashman’s ear already, together with Judge’s ranking as the Yankee’s Poster Boy, any deal involving Judge must appear to make the Yankees a better team, if not now than in the very near future.
The Main Thing Is Don’t Say – “Don’t Trade Aaron Judge”
We’re learning an authentic but depressing aspect about the Yankees this year regarding the luxury tax and their stubborn decision to remain under the payroll limit.
We see the extent of the Yankees 2023 payroll already committed. With the exception (table above) of Rougned Odor, there’s very little room for movement in terms of subtraction.
Add to that the temptation afforded to the Yankees next year when the 2022 Free-Agent class emerges and the Bombers see expensive names like Javier Baez, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa available to fill their hole at shortstop.
How good will Aaron Judge’s projected salary look when compared to adding those players, or how about any of the starting pitchers available in next year’s pool?
In sum, if Brian Cashman hasn’t picked up the phone to text or call the Angels, or any other team, to connect on moving Aaron Judge, he isn’t doing the job he should be doing in terms of looking beyond today.
Brian Cashman’s Legacy Is In His Hands (For Now)
Cashman can, if he wants to, be the Yankees GM who fades into oblivion after 25 years of service, leaving his successor with a committed payroll similar to the one left to Derek Jeter when he took charge of the Florida Marlins, saddled with all those inflated contracts taken on by Jeffrey Loria before he sold the team.
Payroll-wise, the Yankees are pretty much at the breaking point in terms of distance from their current payroll to paying a luxury tax this year.
It’s not going to get better, but it can worsen, and Aaron Judge should clearly be in the discussion of players who can be moved to alleviate, if not erase, a problem that is sure to raise its ugly head for the next few years – at least.