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Aaron Judge’s departure has Yankees’ mother Brian Cashman under contract

Last week, Brian Cashman renewed his code of silence on Aaron Judge’s contract status, and, really, what would there be to say for a Yankees official?

The judge’s camp argued that he should be paid at the length and financial heights of the game’s best players, even under a pre-free agency extension. The Yankees laughed, especially at the mention Judge should be placed in the same financial basket as Mike Trout. The parties could agree neither on a one-year deal nor, more particularly, on a long-term agreement. It tacitly meant this: Judge was ready to bet on himself in 2022, and the Yankees were challenging him to combine health and performance at a level commensurate with his salary demands.

Five weeks into the season, Judge has played so hard that what choice do the Yankees have but silence — unless it’s a surrender?

It’s not even two months, certainly less than a full season, but Judge is answering all the questions. He played with the best players in the game. He did it with maximum health. He continued to play center field at a high enough level to give manager Aaron Boone more options. And his leadership role has expanded even further with Brett Gardner no longer on the list. Oh yes, he did all of this with the pressure of New York, the expectations and the looming contract.

The Yankees' Aaron Judge hits the White Sox in the fourth inning of Friday night's game in Chicago.
The Yankees’ Aaron Judge hits the White Sox in the fourth inning of Friday’s game in Chicago.

Here’s another thing the judging camp can use: he started the weekend fifth in the majors among qualifiers in Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs). The first was Manny Machado of the Padres, who has a 10-year, $300 million contract. The second was Angel Trout, which has a 12-year, $426.5 million pact. The third was Jose Ramirez of the Guardians, whose recent extension guarantees him $141 million for seven seasons. Fourth, the Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado, who is in the middle of an eight-year, $260 million pact.

All are between 29 and 31, so still in their best years, and all signed younger than Judge (30). Also, we don’t know what the contracts will look like over time. But they all look good right now, and it doesn’t take long to imagine that they’ll all age well into their mid-30s. A Yankees concern — and, I imagine, an industry concern if Judge enters the free agent market — will be how a player of his size ages. The immediate answer is that he is playing better on both sides of the ball at 30 as he has at any point in his career.

But we could also be at the start of seeing players and teams finding ways to maintain better health and production for a longer period of time. This is still a tricky subject because we’d all be too naive to think that there aren’t illegal performance enhancements being used in the game yet. But, in general, we’ve seen players straying from the mass and towards leaner, more explosive and athletic bodies.

Giancarlo Stanton reacts after hitting a three-run homer Tuesday against Toronto.
Giancarlo Stanton reacts after hitting a three-run homer Tuesday against Toronto.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have changed their training regimes after another injury-hit season for both in the shortened 2020 campaign. Maybe their better health over the past two years is a coincidence – but I tend not to believe in coincidences.

Since Stanton joined the Yankees from 2018-2020, Judge was 204th in the majors in games played and Stanton was 199th. Surprisingly, Judge was still second in home runs over that span with 63, behind Pete Alonso (who only played in 2019-20). Stanton finished seventh with 45 homers.

In the past two seasons (before the weekend), Judge was 41st in games played, Stanton 78th. Judge finished fourth in the circuits in this era, Stanton seventh.

But their impact together is great because the rollback of their skills and threat is steep. The Yankees are 21-1 when both hit in a game (including the playoffs). The past two years, the Yankees were still impressive 27-22 (.551) when the two weren’t playing. But they were 89-56 (.614) when the two did. They both haven’t played in 88 games between 2018 and 2020 and, once again, the Yanks held their own at 53-35 (.602). But it was 88-47 (.652) when the two were in the starting lineup.

There’s swing-and-miss in both of their games and their streaks, especially for Stanton. But an opposing pitching staff is likely to face them 8-10 times in a game, and only their threat goes into a result and, of course, their impact too – the duo had combined for 96 homers and a .905 OPS in 348 games since the beginning of 2021.

That’s what the Yankees envisioned when they got Stanton — the threat and the real impact. But there were too many times in the first three years when at least one was absent. It was also part of the Yankees’ reluctance to extend with Judge — worries about Judge and Stanton aging on the same roster.

But what if something was unlocked with health?

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman

Stanton, last year and again this season in his 32-year campaign, is playing outfield more regularly — about half of the Yankees’ games. He is signed until 2027 and his campaign at 37. The Yankees’ fear is that Judge and Stanton will need regular DHs by, say, 2025, and then what?

Or do the Yankees believe that the protocols they have in place for strength and conditioning are unlocking a big benefit – better overall health? The Yankees started the weekend having used the injured list only once since the start of the season, for Tim Locastro. They were the second-to-last team to use a starting sixth this season – and Luis Gil was deployed on Thursday because a doubleheader last weekend required a starting sixth, not because of injury.

Additionally, do the Yankees see baseball sinking as a trend that will continue in MLB’s quest to get more balls on the field of play? The result so far is the second-lowest home run rate since 1993. If this continues, it will mean a return to an era when home run hitters, not all roster members, hit home runs. In this scenario, pairing Judge and Stanton gains even more leverage – which is rare and valuable.

That, plus health, a good start and other position players involved in long-term contracts (including Stanton) on the rise all benefited the judge’s case to be paid even more than the 213.5 extension million dollars over seven years offered by the Yankees during spring training. And, right now, the Yankees really don’t have much to say about it.

New York Post

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