When he’s on the field, Aaron Judge is one of the best players in all of baseball. But several major injuries later, the Yankees will eventually have a decision to make.
Aaron Judge became baseball’s most popular personality after an electric rookie season. He was the unanimous American League Rookie of the Year, and one could argue he was robbed of that year’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Even within the last two seasons, his .920 OPS is the 12th-highest mark in all of baseball, and with his elite defense, he is one of the game’s best players — when he’s on the field.
In 27 postseason games, Judge has eight home runs and 17 RBI with a .910 OPS. That’s a 162-game pace of 48 dingers and 102 runs driven in.
But Judge has missed 110 games in his last two seasons. If the season were being played today, he would more likely than not be on the Injured List.
While the talent is obviously there, the Yankees need to be realistic with Judge’s inability to stay healthy throughout an entire season.
And none of these injuries have been small tweaks. Judge has had five major injuries in his first five seasons.
His 2016 season was cut short due to a right oblique strain. A shoulder injury slowed his 2017 down, and he underwent surgery after the year. In 2018, he fractured his wrist after being hit by a pitch. Last season, he had a left oblique strain.
Now, he has a cracked rib from September that is still not healed.
Looking at his talent, his personality, and how he handles his fame with the fans, it would be malpractice to not sign Judge to a lifetime deal right now.
But, as we’ve seen with guys like Luis Severino and Giancarlo Stanton, it’s fiscally irresponsible to pay someone who has just once played in more than 112 games.
Judge is set to be a free agent after the 2022 season, and he will be four weeks shy of his 32nd birthday on Opening Day of 2023.
We’ve seen a trend of players on the wrong side of 30 not getting tremendously long-term deals, which is no fault of Judge. It just is what it is.
Judge can easily be one of the highest paid players in all of baseball, based on his skill. But his struggles to stay healthy could hold him back in the long-term future.
This puts the Yankees and Judge in a bind. If Judge were smart, he’d recognize his injuries can hurt him in contract negotiations, and he should consider locking up cash today.
And while a good alternative is to extend Judge today, look at how that has worked out for the Yankees in just the last year.
They extended Severino for four years at $10 million a year before the beginning of the 2019 season. Severino then pitched just 20.2 innings, including the postseason last year. He underwent Tommy John surgery in February and will be out until at least mid 2021.
The Yankees signed Aaron Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million deal prior to last season, too, and he had already had a fair share of injures. He then played 59 games last year, and also underwent Tommy John surgery. He is expected to return sometime this summer.
Of course, Judge isn’t Severino and Hicks. But he’s been just as hurt as them. That might not be a risk the Yankees are willing to take.
It is impossible to imagine Judge wearing another uniform. But that may be a reality Yankee fans need to accept in just a few years.