Aaron Judge Bypasses Yankees’ Extension Offer

© Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees and Aaron Judge found a way to bring extra drama to Opening Day. Even with an additional 24 hours of negotiations due to the postponement of their season opener against the Red Sox, the team did not reach an agreement on a contract extension with the slugger in time to meet his self-imposed deadline. Judge, who turns 30 on April 26, had said that once the 2022 season opened, all negotiations would cease, and he maintained that stance on Friday morning amid a flurry of reports detailing the Yankees’ offer, telling the assembled media, “First pitch is at 1:08 pm.”

His status did not change, and so on Friday night Judge told The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, “At the end of the year, I’ll be a free agent. I’ll get to talk to 30 teams. The Yankees will be one of those 30.”

“I’m just disappointed because I think I’ve been vocal about — I want to be a Yankee for life, and bring a championship back to New York,” Judge told reporters after Friday’s 6-5 win. “I want to do it for the fans here. This is home for me, and not getting it done right now stings, but I’ve got a job to do on the field and I’ve got to shift my focus to that now and go play some ball.”

In a break from the way that the Yankees normally do business, general manager Brian Cashman laid out the offer to Judge “for transparency purposes” rather than rely on leaks to the media that he would have to confirm. According to Cashman, the team offered Judge seven years at $30.5 million per year, plus $17 million for this year, his final one before free agency, for a total package of $230.5 million.

“We were unsuccessful in concluding a multiyear pact,” Cashman told reporters before the team’s opener. “Obviously, our intent is to have Aaron Judge stay as a New York Yankee as we move forward, and I know that is his intent as well, which is a good thing. We’re going to be entering those efforts in a new arena, which would be at the end of the season when free agency starts, and maybe that will determine what the real market value would be, because we certainly couldn’t agree at this stage on a contract extension.”

Had Judge accepted, his contract would have carried the highest average annual value for any position player in franchise history at $28.8 million, surpassing the $27.5 million AAV from Alex Rodriguez‘s second 10-year deal. Among outfielders, the $30.5 million AAV for his free agent years would have surpassed the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts‘ $34.17 million and trailed only the Angels’ Mike Trout’s $35.54 million.

Judge played his side of negotiations close to the vest, and so it’s unclear what kind of terms he was seeking. The New York Post‘s Jon Heyman reported both that his camp “countered the Yankees’ offer at nine or 10 years at $36M a year for up to $360M” — Trout money, in other words — but also that “Someone close to Judge denied that [figure].” The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal reported that Judge asked for eight years with an average annual value “in the range of” $36 million. Eight times 36 equals $288 million; throw in this year’s as-yet-undetermined salary (the Yankees filed for arbitration at $17 million, he filed at $22 million) and you’ve got a contract well over $300 million, something in the ballpark of Gerrit Cole’s nine-year, $324 million deal.

Even in free agency, it’s difficult to imagine Judge approaching that annual salary for that length of time given his age and an industry-wide skittishness towards long-term deals for players over 30. Towards that end, here’s a quick look at the 18 position player contracts worth at least $200 million, 14 of which are still in effect. Only six of those 18 began when a player was in his age-30 season or later, and of those six, only one took effect after the 2016 season — and it happens to be the shortest one of the bunch:

Position Player Contracts of $200 Million or More
Rk Player Total Yrs Span AAV Age
1 Mike Trout $426.5 12 2019-30 $35.54 27
2 Mookie Betts $365.0 12 2021-32 $30.42 28
3 Francisco Lindor $341.0 10 2022-31 $34.10 28
4 Fernando Tatis Jr. $340.0 14 2021-34 $24.29 22
5 Bryce Harper $330.0 13 2019-31 $25.38 26
6 Giancarlo Stanton $325.0 13 2015-27 $25.00 25
7 Corey Seager $325.0 10 2022-31 $32.50 28
9 Manny Machado $300.0 10 2019-28 $30.00 26
10 Alex Rodriguez $275.0 10 2008-17 $27.50 32
11 Nolan Arenado $260.0 8 2019-26 $32.50 28
12 Alex Rodriguez $252.0 10 2001-10 $25.20 25
13 Miguel Cabrera $248.0 8 2016-23 $31.00 33
14 Anthony Rendon $245.0 7 2020-26 $35.00 30
15T Albert Pujols $240.0 10 2012-21 $24.00 32
15T Robinson Canó $240.0 10 2014-23 $24.00 31
17 Joey Votto $225.0 10 2014-23 $22.50 30
18 Christian Yelich $215.0 9 2020-28 $23.89 28
19 Prince Fielder $214.0 9 2012-20 $23.78 28
SOURCE: Cot’s Contracts
Age = seasonal age as of June 30 in first year of contract.

Regarding those contacts for players in their 30s, they don’t make ’em like that anymore, because they have not aged well. Pujols, Cabrera, and even Votto plummeted to replacement level by the middle of their deals or sooner, with the Reds’ first baseman the only one who managed to rebound, while Rodriguez and Canó were not the same players after their PED suspensions (the former missed all of 2014, the latter is returning from a full-year suspension after missing half of ’18 due to a previous suspension). The jury is still out on Rendon, who after a strong start during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was limited to 58 games and 0.7 WAR last year. But by and large, this group is a scared straight advertisement for general managers considering handing out $200 million deals to aging stars.

Judge is an impressive player, with otherworldly power and bat speed. The 6-foot-7 behemoth hits the ball harder than just about anyone in the game, and the numbers back it up: his 95.8 mph average exit velocity and 57.9% hard-hit rate last year led baseball while his 17.9% barrel rate was good for the 96th percentile. He pummeled the ball at a .287/.373/.544 clip, ranking third in the American League in both slugging percentage and wRC+ (148), fifth in WAR (5.5) and tied for fifth in homers (39).

Across the 2017-21 span, Judge’s .391 OBP ranked eighth in the majors, his 154 homers fifth, his .563 SLG and 24.5 WAR both fourth, and his 154 wRC+ third. He did all that while playing in just 545 games; on a prorated basis, only Trout has been more valuable, with Betts right alongside him, and José Ramírez and Rendon not far off the pace:

WAR per 650 Plate Appearances, 2017-21
Player PA wRC+ WAR WAR/650
Mike Trout 2102 180 29.6 9.2
Aaron Judge 2370 154 24.5 6.7
Mookie Betts 2828 139 29.2 6.7
José Ramírez 2775 139 28.0 6.6
Anthony Rendon 2329 141 23.3 6.5
Ronald Acuña Jr. 1764 140 15.8 5.8
Juan Soto 2003 156 17.7 5.7
Yasmani Grandal 2201 124 19.4 5.7
J.T. Realmuto 2435 113 21.1 5.6
Alex Bregman 2601 143 22.4 5.6
Matt Chapman 2386 120 20.2 5.5
Christian Yelich 2648 138 22.3 5.5
Xander Bogaerts 2741 125 22.0 5.2
Justin Turner 2305 139 18.2 5.1
Nolan Arenado 2869 123 22.6 5.1
Jose Altuve 2697 136 21.2 5.1
Trea Turner 2661 122 20.8 5.1
Francisco Lindor 2912 117 22.6 5.0
Bryce Harper 2712 145 21.0 5.0
Carlos Correa 2131 128 16.5 5.0

Within the top tier of that group, the players worth at least six wins per 650 PA, Judge will be the oldest when he starts banking his big checks; as noted from the previous table, Rendon was entering his age-30 season when he hit pay dirt, while the others are in their 20s, including Ramírez, who finally got his due last week, albeit after a very below-market deal relative to his skills.

You don’t need me to tell you that age is everything when it comes to projections, but I will just the same. Here’s a look at Judge’s ZiPS projection, furnished by Dan Szymborski:

ZiPS Projection – Aaron Judge
2022 .276 .369 .538 496 85 137 22 0 36 95 71 5 144 9 5.1
2023 .273 .366 .531 469 80 128 22 0 33 89 68 4 141 9 4.6
2024 .269 .361 .514 453 75 122 21 0 30 83 64 4 136 9 4.1
2025 .265 .356 .491 430 67 114 19 0 26 73 59 4 128 8 3.5
2026 .257 .343 .461 408 59 105 17 0 22 64 52 3 117 7 2.6
2027 .253 .333 .424 384 52 97 15 0 17 54 45 3 106 7 1.8
2028 .246 .321 .401 357 44 88 13 0 14 45 37 2 96 6 1.2
2029 .239 .306 .366 284 32 68 9 0 9 32 26 2 83 4 0.3

That’s a reasonably strong projection for the first few years, but ZiPS expects Judge to tail off by his mid-30s, and to be a below-average player over the final two years of his deal. At full value, if 2022 weren’t his final year before free agency, ZiPS would suggest an eight-year, $184 million contract, but with the arbitration-year discount for what projects to be his most productive season, that drops to eight years and $167.5 million — about $63 million short of what the Yankees were offering based on Adler’s report. Presumably, the Yankees view that gap — which may be narrower, if their internal projections value him more highly than ZiPS — as representing some face-of-the-franchise premium that can be made up on the marketing and merchandising side.

All of which is to say that Judge bypassed a very generous offer, likely because he believes there will be an even more generous one on the other side, whether it comes from the Yankees or another team. While it was rather self-serving of the Yankees to announce the terms of the deal he rejected, this doesn’t appear to be a case along the lines of when the Nationals let it be known that they had offered Bryce Harper $300 million… but with roughly $100 million of that deferred, possibly knocking over $50 million off the present-day value. Via Rosenthal, the Yankees’ offer did not include any deferred money.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Judge’s ZiPS projection accounts for his shaky availability. From 2017-21, he played in just 77% of the Yankees’ games; last year’s 148 was his highest total since he played 155 in 2017. In the three seasons in between, he played just 242 total games: 112 in 2018, when he missed about seven weeks due a chip fracture in his right wist; 102 in ’19, when he missed two months due to an oblique strain; and 28 in ’20, when he missed a month due to a recurrent right calf strain.

Speaking of shaky availability, Judge’s only trip to the injured list last year came when he contracted COVID-19, which raises an uncomfortable point: he has deflected all questioning about his vaccination status, raising the possibility that he could miss the Yankees’ nine games in Toronto so long as the Canadian government bars the entry of unvaccinated players. Judge’s status for the team’s May 2-4 visit will be a reckoning on that subject.

That issue aside, one could backfill a good chunk of Judge’s missing time and probably create a projection that lands in the ballpark of the Yankees’ reported offer, as a player not just with an 8.3-WAR rookie season but a couple of seasons worth around seven wins to date, one who legitimately projects in the $30-million-a-year range over the course of a long-term deal. Still, I’m not sure how you get from there to Trout territory, not at Judge’s age. As Dan relayed to me, if Judge were three years younger, playing his age-27 season this year on an arbitration-year discount, ZiPS would suggest eight years at $253 million, while if he were five years younger, ZiPS would suggest eight years at $293 million, $36.6 million per year.

All of this is before really getting into the other wild card when it comes to Judge: the effect of his size on his aging pattern. In all of baseball history, only seven position players listed at 6-foot-6 or taller have produced even 1.0 WAR from age 30 onward:

Towering Sluggers in their 30s
Player Age Years G PA wRC+ WAR
Dave Winfield 30-43 1982-1995 1751 7406 126 28.1
Frank Howard 30-36 1967-1973 976 3908 151 23.4
Dave Kingman 30-37 1979-1986 1024 4044 111 7.2
Richie Sexson 30-33 2005-2008 531 2137 114 3.8
Giancarlo Stanton 30-32 2020-2022 164 681 139 3.2
Adam Dunn 30-34 2010-2014 711 2911 109 3.0
Darryl Strawberry 30-37 1992-1999 335 1189 110 1.8
Listed at 6-foot-6 or greater.

All of these guys continued to hit into their 30s, but defense was another story; their values were significantly suppressed by their gloves, and if they were DHing — something Howard only got to do in his final season — by that point they didn’t have much value in either direction. Judge has never won a Gold Glove but he did win a Fielding Bible Award this past year, and a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award in 2019. Winfield, the lone Hall of Famer in the group, won seven Gold Gloves, but he was consistently in the red according to Total Zone, even when he brought home the hardware. Even if Judge is a more well-rounded player than those above, there just aren’t a lot of precedents for someone of his size aging gracefully in a baseball context.

While Cashman left the door open for Judge to reconsider the offer, it doesn’t sound as though that’s going to happen, though with his arbitration hearing not likely to occur until June, the lines of communication will probably remain open given that the Yankees generally avoid such proceedings. They haven’t taken a player to arbitration since Dellin Betances in 2017, and the GM said, “We don’t wind up in a hearing unless we are pushed into a hearing.” In the process of finding common ground for 2022, it’s not out of the question that the two sides find a bigger figure both can live with, though it seems unlikely.

So Judge is betting on himself to provide the Yankees and their competition a reason to up the ante. It’s a bold strategy that reflects the calm confidence the right fielder routinely projects. We’ll see if it pays off for him.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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Jeff in Jerseymember
1 year ago

I am sure that Aaron Judge will be well-compensated, but as the article suggests, I think the Yankees made a reasonable offer.

1 year ago
Reply to  Jeff in Jersey

It’s his right to play it out and go to free agency, but I don’t think he’s going to do better than that offer and he could certainly do worse.

1 year ago
Reply to  cowdisciple

If Judge hits his projection of 36HR OPS+144 war 5.1,
he will probably do better than $214M/7 years.

MLB payroll had been pretty stagnant for the past couple of years, but the last offseason showed a significant jump that is unlikely to reverse.

Rendon’s contract $245M/7 years is probably a good comp.
ZiPS projected 18.3 WAR for Rendon’s 2020-2026
and is projecting 18.1 WAR for Judge’s 2023-2029.

1 year ago
Reply to  tung_twista

Rendon was 29 and 9 months when the season started after he signed. Judge will be 30 and 11 months.

1 year ago
Reply to  dl80

Rendon also plays 3B and there’s more comfort with his ability to stick at the position long-term. Between age and his size, I think there’s a lot of justifiable worry that he’ll be a COF liability / DH only type for a substantial portion of the deal.