I price myself on not being surprised by what enters my orbit via social media and email, especially after tackling a controversial subject or when a New York team suffers a setback.
You learn that spontaneity, anonymity and anger create a toxic brew that triggers reactions which are emotional — and worse. Heroes become goats quickly in the forum of disappointment and fury at, for example, a New York team being eliminated from the playoffs.
Yet I have to admit surprise to the reaction from a recent column on what to do with the Yankees. I recommended, among other items, that the Yankees have to at least consider trading Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit to upgrade defense and add more lefty bats for lineup diversity. Some readers criticized that (especially about Torres). That was expected, no opinion receives close to 100 percent support. What wasn’t anticipated was how many folks offered a version of, “why are you not including Aaron Judge among players the Yankees should trade?”
That escalated quickly. One minute you are the face of the franchise, the next you can’t stay healthy, are killing the Yankees in the playoffs and have to go.
That took me aback, though not because it missed the point of the argument. Judge is excellent on defense and the Yankees have lefty bats (Aaron Hicks, Mike Tauchman, Brett Gardner if he returns) who can work into the outfield. At catcher, first, second, short and third, however, the Yankees were locked into righties — with suspect defense at catcher, first and short.
What startled me, at least somewhat, was the quick turn from the idea that Judge is the Yankees’ next Derek Jeter — a fan-favorite team leader wrapped in talent — to the belief he is part of the problem, and not the solution. This season did not do that for me. Judge is still, at minimum, a short-term cornerstone because he is a tremendous all-around player who has proven he can handle New York and can take on some leadership elements.
Judge, even striking out often, was always a tough at-bat as opposed to, say, three Gary Sanchez flails, each missing the ball by a foot. But Judge’s plate appearances were not as good late this year or in the playoffs. I do believe the rib injury from last season and a calf ailment that twice sent Judge to the injured list this year messed up both his approach and his swing, as evidenced by the frequency of grounders in a postseason during which he also hit three homers (of his four hits) and struck out 10 times in 30 at-bats.
But the injuries more than ever convinced me that unless Judge is willing to take an undervalued long-term deal (improbable), then the Yankees have to go a year at a time through 2022 and see what he looks like at that point entering free agency.
Since winning the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year Award and finishing second for the MVP, Judge has played in 242 of a possible 384 games. He has missed 37 percent of games the last three seasons. For perspective, MLB just played 37 percent of a season with 60 games. So, yep, Judge has missed a lot of games.
Judge, like Giancarlo Stanton, just may be too big and strong to stay healthy, particularly in an age when every swing (often even those in batting practice) are full force. There are few comparables historically to players of their size to gauge what might be coming. That includes also determining how Judge and Stanton will age. Because if you think those guys strike out a lot now, how about if they lose a tick in bat speed? And Judge, a college-drafted player who did not become a major league regular until 25, will be an older free agent, not getting into the market until after his age-30 season.
That, in theory, could make him willing to listen on an extension now rather than wait to see how the marketplace values (or doesn’t value) him. Paul Goldschmidt, who has statistical similarities to Judge through the same period, was not going to be a free agent until after his age-31 season. So following a trade from the Diamondbacks to Cardinals, and before his walk year, the first baseman signed a five-year, $130 million pact.
Judge, though he will not enter his walk year until 2022, likely would be looking to shoot higher in length and dollars. But I don’t think the Yankees would even do five years at $130 million right now with Judge, because they are worried about the injury and age issues. Also, because with their revenue loss this year and financial uncertainty for next year, the Yankees are almost certainly going to cut payroll substantially, perhaps below the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. And they do not want to add a $26 million annual average to their 2021 payroll.
Instead, the Yankees probably will live with what Judge receives for one season as a second-year arbitration eligible. Judge would have made $8.5 million if a full season were played in 2020. That is a huge number for a first-time arbitration player. But all upcoming arbitration is complicated because owners and players have yet to agree how to treat the statistics of arbitration-eligible players in a 60-game season — for example, do you just prorate them, and, thus, Judge’s nine-homer season is viewed as a 24-homer season? Or did he just hit nine homers and has to make a case around that?
An arbitration expert spoken to believes Judge will land around $10 million. That is not a payroll buster and, if Judge stays healthy and performs to his talent, it is the kind of extreme underpayment that should make even the most upset fan take a deep breath (not hit the send button), and want to keep Judge for at least another year. I won’t be surprised this time, however, if there is a lot of disagreement with that.
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