Great Yankees don’t leave, at least not when they’re still great Yankees. But Aaron Judge could. It would be some Judgement Day.
In the old days Babe Ruth left the Yankees when he was old and so did Yogi Berra, who played nine games with the Mets when he was 39. Lou Gehrig retired when he was diagnosed with ALS. Even in the baseball world before free agency, Joe DiMaggio went the distance in pinstripes and so did Mickey Mantle and even when free agency did come along, Derek Jeter and Mo Rivera — who came within one vote of both being unanimous Hall of Fame selections — went the distance in pinstripes, too.
The only star who walked away from the Yankees as a free agent, in his prime, was Robinson Canó, who, nine years ago, signed that $240 million, 10-year deal with the Mariners after the Yankees’ best offer was reported to be $175 million for seven.
But now there is the real chance that Judge might leave after being a Yankee his whole career, coming off one of the remarkable seasons that any Yankee ever had, all the way back to Ruth and Gehrig. “All Rise” Judge beat Ruth’s best home run season and beat Roger Maris’s 61 homers in ’61 and ended up with 62 and an AL MVP Award. He has now hit more than 50 homers in a season twice in the last six seasons, something only Ruth and Mantle ever did as Yankees.
Judge hits the open market the way Alex Rodriguez did after opting out of his contract during the 2007 World Series, after hitting 54 home runs and knocking in 156. But no one ever thought Rodriguez was going anywhere before signing a new 10-year contract with the Yankees. The same length of contract Canó ended up signing with Seattle six years later.
But neither one of them was ever the face of the Yankees, even at their best, the way Jeter and Rivera were at that same time in New York, and the way Judge is now. Judge this past season was as much a franchise player as the Yankees have ever had, because there is no telling how badly the Yankees might have crashed over the second half of the season if he hadn’t hit the way he did.
Now he hits the market, after a year like that. He has been romanced hard by the San Francisco Giants, who have money to spend. Basketball legend Chris Mullin, a New Yorker who became a Hall of Fame player and Dream Team member while with the Warriors, is one of those trying to recruit Judge to San Francisco, saying on television the other night, “We’ve been waiting for someone to replace Barry Lamar Bonds and [Judge] is the perfect fit.”
The Giants signed Bonds as a free agent after he left the Pirates in 1992, when he was a reigning MVP. Then Bonds showed up in San Francisco and promptly won a second straight MVP Award, long before his controversial association with performance-enhancing drugs. He became the Giants’ star and the kind of spectacular all-around player that Willie Mays had once been in San Francisco.
Now, all this time later, the Giants clearly think they can find a replacement for the young Bonds if they can convince Judge, who grew up a couple of hours away from Oracle Park in Linden, Calif., to leave the Yankees and leave New York and come play baseball for them.
Here is what Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations for the Giants, said recently:
“I think from a financial standpoint there’s nobody that would be out of our capability. And then it’ll just be a question of whether there’s mutual interest and how we put together the best possible team.”
The Yankees had the field to themselves last spring, when they offered Judge $213.5 million over seven years on a contract extension beyond the $17 million he earned for 2022. Judge turned it down, electing to play things out. Then the whole world saw how he actually did play things out. On the day when Judge was announced as the American League MVP, Brian Cashman said that the Yankees had made a new offer to Judge, saying they were now “on the clock.”
“We’re not messing around,” Cashman said.
No one has yet reported that the Giants have made a formal proposal to Judge. No one knows how much the Yankees are offering Judge now. No one knows, at least at this point, if the Dodgers might get into the game with Judge, as it is a well-documented fact that money has never been an object with the Dodgers.
Aaron Judge, star of the Yankees and the biggest star in baseball this season, is a free agent. The betting is still that eventually he’ll decide not to be the greatest Yankee to ever leave them. But he might. Canó was a big player for the Yankees at the time he left them for the Mariners. Not this big.