On Opening Day, Aaron Judge made a $213.5-million bet on himself by turning down a contract from the New York Yankees that would have kept him with the team through 2029. That bet is going to pay off as Judge had the best season of his career — hitting an American League record 62 home runs and likely scoring AL MVP honors — before hitting unrestricted free agency.
Where is Judge going to cash in? Many have theorized it could be with the Mets, but a November 3 piece on SNY striking down that theory has now prompted an investigation by the Commissioner’s Office as a possible violation of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.
Per The Athletic, comments in the article attributed to Mets sources about the team being reluctant to pursue Judge in free agency may be evidence that improper communication occurred between the respective owners of the Mets and Yankees.
“Talking to Mets people about this all through the year, the team in Queens sees Judge as a Yankee, uniquely tailored to be an icon in their uniform, stadium and branding efforts,” according to the SNY story. “Owners Steve Cohen and Hal Steinbrenner enjoy a mutually respectful relationship and do not expect to upend that with a high-profile bidding war. The only way people involved can see the Mets changing course and pursuing Judge would be if the Yankees somehow declared themselves totally out of the bidding.”
Cohen and Steinbrenner agreeing to work together to avoid bidding competitively on Judge would be a clear violation of the CBA and could wind up putting some extra dough in the 30-year-old All Star’s pocket. “If the union files a grievance over the situation with the Mets and Yankees, an arbitrator will determine whether collusion occurred,” according to The Athletic. “The union separately would need to prove Judge was harmed. He would stand to receive triple damages.”
When all is said and done, California-native Judge may decide to leave the Empire State altogether and consider heading home on a mega-deal from either the Giants, Dodgers or Angels with San Francisco probably making the most sense as a fit.
Of course, Judge may decide to stick close to both the Bronx and Queens and take his talents up the interstate to Boston to play for the Red Sox. That possibility was discussed back in September after Judge bashed two home runs at Fenway Park. “Ooh,” Judge said when asked about signing with Boston. “We’ll talk about that at the end of the year.”
He went on to call Boston’s fans “some of the best in baseball” and praised the atmosphere at Friendly Fenway. “They’re going to boo you, they’re going to say some things, they’re going to make you laugh,” Judge said of the Boston fans. “It’s all part of it. A lot of great history here, and this is one of the best places to play, so it’s always fun going out there and trying to put on a show for them.”
One thing that may make Judge think twice about taking that show on the road and leaving New York is the Yanks re-signing first baseman Anthony Rizzo to remain in pinstripes. One of Judge’s buddies on the team, Rizzo agreed Tuesday to a $40 million, two-year contract, a week after turning down a $16 million player option.
“I hope Judge stays just for the sake of the game because you see a lot of franchise icons not getting what they deserve for the team that they have done so much for,” Rizzo said after his deal was announced.
With free agency now well underway, expect the hot stove to keep cooking and the market for Judge to heat up.