aaron judge ny yankees

In conjunction with this post, Darragh McDonald will be hosting a Yankees-centric chat on 11-4-22. Click here to ask a question in advance, join in or read the transcript afterwards.

The Yankees just posted their 30th consecutive winning season and made the playoffs for a sixth straight year. Yet there’s an air of uncertainty hanging over the offseason, with a decent chunk of the roster reaching free agency, headlined by face of the franchise and AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge.

Guaranteed Contracts

  • Gerrit Cole, SP: $216MM through 2028. Can opt out after 2024 but team can void that by tacking on $36MM option for 2029.
  • Giancarlo Stanton, OF/DH: $160MM through 2027, including $10MM buyout on $25MM club option for 2028.
  • DJ LeMahieu, IF: $60MM through 2026.
  • Aaron Hicks, OF: $31.36MM through 2025, including $1MM buyout on $12.5MM club option for 2026.
  • Josh Donaldson, 3B: $27MM through 2023, including $6MM buyout on $16MM mutual option for 2024.
  • Harrison Bader, OF: $5.2MM through 2023.

Option Decisions

Total 2023 commitments (if Rizzo exercises option): $136.74MM
Total future commitments: $516.31MM

Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected 2023 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

It’s no real secret the big question facing the Yankees this winter is whether or not they can convince Aaron Judge to come back. Spring extension talks got a little bit awkward, with the slugger and the club failing to come to an agreement. General manager Brian Cashman took the unusual step of announcing the details of their offerJudge turned down, which was for $213.5MM over seven years, an average annual value of $30.5MM. Judge was reportedly looking for an AAV around Mike Trout’s $36MM on a longer term.

Turning down a contract offer of that size was certainly risky, as many things could have gone wrong for Judge in 2022, including a serious injury. However, the bet paid off in about the best way imaginable, as he ended up having an outstanding season. Not only did he hit 62 home runs and set a new American League record in that category, he also flirted with a Triple Crown, stole 16 bases, played about half the year in center field and got good marks in the process. His final slash line of .311/.425/.686 amounts to goofy-looking numbers like a 207 wRC+ and a 211 OPS+. He was worth 11.4 wins above replacement per the calculations of FanGraphs and 10.6 from Baseball Reference. That fWAR total hasn’t been seen since from a position player since Barry Bonds. And if you’re the type that wants to ignore Bonds, you’re going back to Mickey Mantle in the late ’50s.

There’s no doubting Judge will get paid more than what he turned down, the question is who will pay him. Judge has been quite tight-lipped about his preferences, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating. Some will point to the boos he received during the Yankees’ frustrating postseason and suggest perhaps Judge would prefer to go to the Giants, further from the pressures of New York and closer to his Bay Area family. Others suggest there’s no way the Yankees will allow the PR nightmare of letting their best player be pried away from them. The Dodgers are always a threat and are reportedly willing to move Mookie Betts to second base in order to fit Judge into the picture. Much ink will be spilled and many clicks will be generated until we know the correct answer.

The Yankees certainly have the payroll to make it happen if they want. Roster Resource estimates they’re currently slated to spend about $192MM next year. Picking up Severino’s option would add $12.25MM but Rizzo’s likely opt-out will subtract $16MM, getting them just under the $190MM mark. However, the club could then give him a qualifying offer, which is set at $19.65MM this year. If he were to accept, the payroll would climb to about $210MM.

Their Opening Day payroll in 2022 was $246MM, in the estimation of Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Even if they want to cap their 2023 spending around this year’s levels, they should have close to $60MM to work with, or around $40MM if Rizzo accepts the QO. Given that Judge’s home run chase generated plenty of ticket sales, merchandise sales and TV ratings, there’s certainly an argument for a bump. Also, the Yankees have been usurped as the big dog on the block, getting outspent by the Dodgers and Mets this year. Perhaps they would feel the time is right to retake that throne in order to retain such a special player.

However, baseball games aren’t won by individuals and the club will also need to think about the rest of the roster. The outfield is currently set to lose both Judge and Andrew Benintendi to free agency, leaving the options on the grass looking a little thin. Deadline acquisition Harrison Bader will be in center and sure to provide excellent defense as well as adequate offense, or perhaps better. Aaron Hicks is still around but he hasn’t been both healthy and good at the same time since 2018. The Yankees would probably love to find a way to move him, but shedding any notable portion of the roughly $30MM remaining on his contract looks unlikely. At the very least, they’d presumably want to keep him in a fourth outfield role if they can’t find a trade partner. Giancarlo Stanton is mostly a designated hitter, taking the field in 38 games in 2022, his highest such total since 2018. He turns 33 this month and can’t really be counted on for anything more than occasional stints on the grass.

Oswaldo Cabrera was an infielder in the minors but learned outfield on the fly in order to help the team out down the stretch. He had a nice debut but in a small sample of just 44 games. Estevan Florial has shown promise in the minors but hasn’t yet been able to transfer that to the majors. He’ll be out of options next year and will need a spot on the active roster or have to be designated for assignment. Tim Locastro has wheels but is best suited for a bench/pinch runner role since his bat hasn’t shown enough to earn a regular gig. If Judge is indeed compelled to return, then things look much better. He can slot into right field next to Bader, with some combo of Hicks, Cabrera, Stanton and Florial covering left. Without him, it obviously needs addressing, with the Yanks then having to turn to lesser options like Benintendi, Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson or Mitch Haniger. Even with Judge, the Yanks might be wise to add to this crew in order to bump Hicks down the depth chart and free up Cabrera to play the infield.

There are also some question marks on the infield. A year ago, the Yankees steered clear of the big free agent shortstops, evidently quite confident that prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe could eventually take over the position. To that end, they acquired a placeholder in Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who had a typical season for him, combining strong defense with subpar offense. However, some defensive miscues put a dent in his postseason playing time. Peraza had a strong season in Triple-A and got up to the big leagues by the end of the year, appearing in 18 regular season games as well as three in the postseason. Volpe spent most of the year in Double-A but got up to Triple-A by season’s end. Neither Peraza nor Volpe has done enough to guarantee themselves the job just yet, which means it makes sense to tender IKF a contract for his final year of arbitration eligibility. If he is eventually leaped on the depth chart by one of the young guns, he can then slide into a utility role. There’s also the presence of Cabrera, who could be in this mix if he’s not needed in the outfield. Given those various options, it’s possible the Yanks will avoid yet another big free agent shortstop market. If they are confident enough in the youngsters, they could even consider trading Kiner-Falefa, though that certainly comes with risk.

Elsewhere on the infield, Anthony Rizzo had a strong season and seems likely to opt out of his deal, especially with the new shift ban set to help him out going forward. As mentioned earlier, it’s possible he receives and accepts a qualifying offer, which will be determined shortly after the offseason begins. Second base should be taken by Gleyber Torres, who bounced back at the plate after a rough 2021 where he lost the shortstop job for good. Given his escalating arbitration salary, it’s possible the Yankees consider trading him for help elsewhere (they reportedly discussed him with the Marlins in talks surrounding Pablo Lopez this summer) and then use one of their shortstop candidates at the keystone.

Josh Donaldson was solid in the field but saw his wRC+ drop to 97, his first time being below 117 since 2012. His strikeout rate also jumped up to 27.1%, easily the worst of his career, outside of a cup of coffee way back in 2010. He’s about to turn 37 and the club will have to wonder if they need to cut bait before he potentially declines even further. Due $27MM next year (including a buyout on a 2024 option), he certainly won’t have any trade appeal. The Yankees will have to determine whether it’s worthwhile to eat the majority of his contract to move him or bring him back and hope for stronger results.

Despite an injury-marred finish, it was a solid season for DJ LeMahieu. He could potentially replace Rizzo at first base but could also man the hot corner if the Yanks find a way to move Donaldson. Then again, since he’ll turn 35 next year, perhaps it would be wise to keep him in the utility role so that he doesn’t have to be counted on for everyday work. As 2022 showed, the Yanks can win games with a rotation of Rizzo, Torres, IKF and Donaldson with LeMahieu getting work all over. In 2023, the contributions of Cabrera, Peraza and Volpe should grow, which will help. It wouldn’t be insane to keep the group together, but they could also look to other options. The first base market features plenty of solid veterans like Josh Bell, Jose Abreu, Trey Mancini and Brandon Belt. The third base market is mostly composed of utility types like Jace Peterson and Aledmys Diaz.

Behind the plate, it’s likely the Yankees feel content with what they have. They decided to move on from the Gary Sanchez era and acquired a glove-first option in Jose Trevino. The bet seems to have paid off, at least in terms of defensive work. Trevino posted 21 Defensive Runs Saved, earned a 19.1 from the FanGraphs framing metric and was the Fielding Bible award winner behind the plate. Both of those numbers were the highest in all of baseball, allowing Trevino to be worth 3.7 fWAR despite hitting around league average for a catcher. Kyle Higashioka wasn’t quite as strong as Trevino but was still above-average on defense. For next year, they could target a bat-first catcher like Willson Contreras, or someone like Sean Murphy, who is good with the bat and the glove. But it doesn’t seem like that should be their highest priority since Trevino and Higashioka are both solid and set for modest arbitration salaries.

Turning to the rotation, the starting staff could be losing a valuable contributor in Jameson Taillon, but it should still be in good shape. Gerrit Cole led the majors in strikeouts again and will be back for more. Severino bounced back from three mostly lost seasons to have a fairly healthy campaign in 2022. He spent some time on the IL but still got over 100 innings after only pitching 18 total frames over 2019-2021. He’ll have his option picked up and will be around next year. Nestor Cortes Jr. will look to build on an excellent breakout campaign. Frankie Montas dealt with shoulder issues after being acquired from the A’s but will hopefully be healthy and back to his old self. They also have Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt as decent options for the back end. They’ll haver to decide whether to make Taillon a qualifying offer and, if they either opt against it or he declines, if they want to try to bring him back on a multi-year deal.

In the bullpen, the Yanks will see a couple of notable veterans moving on, as both Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton are slated for free agency. Also, Chapman and the team seemed to have a falling out after he skipped a team workout that occurred as the Yankees were waiting to see who they would face in the ALDS, and it seems highly unlikely he’ll be back. A Britton return is possible, but he’s no sure solution after two injury-plagued seasons. Miguel Castro and Chad Green are also heading to the open market, though Green is likely to miss at least part of 2023 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May. The bullpen will also be without deadline acquisition Scott Effross, who required TJS in October.

With those subtractions, the remaining relievers include Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáisiga, Wandy Peralta, Lou Trivino, Ron Marinaccio and others. There are certainly some solid arms in there, but there’s also room for some improvements. Holmes seemed to have the closer’s job on lock before scuffling midseason but then finishing strong. The top of the relief market will be Edwin Diaz, but there will be plenty of other available hurlers who could make sense, including Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, Brad Hand, Chris Martin or Rafael Montero.

As for who’s running the ship, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt there. Cashman is in the final few months of his contract but that doesn’t appear to be an issue. The last time this happened was 2017 and a new contract wasn’t hammered out until December of that year. It seems he’ll eventually get the paperwork sorted to stick around; Jon Heyman of the New York Post suggested that’s the likeliest outcome earlier this week. Manager Aaron Boone is under contract for 2024 with a club option for 2025. Some fans have called for his head after the disappointing playoff performance of the club, but Boone recently got a vote of confidence from owner Hal Steinbrenner.

All in all, there are many questions facing the Yankees this winter. Will they trade any of Donaldson, Hicks or IKF? How much do they spend on the bullpen, and do they get a proven closer? Is Rizzo back or do they need to address first base? But those all seem like trivial matters when compared to the massive question at the center of everything. Will Aaron Judge return to the only organization he’s ever known, or will he swap out the pinstripes for something new? It’s the biggest question of the offseason — not just for the Yankees, but for the entire league.

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