SAN DIEGO - After all the conversations, all the back and forth and all of the mystery, the resolution to the Aaron Judge Sweepstakes occurred because of a phone conversation between the mammoth outfielder and Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner. That call led to Judge agreeing to a nine-year, $360 million contract and allowed everyone in Yankeeland to exhale.
The negotiations with Judge had been draining and secretive with the Yankees desperately hoping that they would be able to sign their franchise player. There really wasn’t a Plan B. It was all about executing Plan A and all about signing Judge.
But, as of late Tuesday night, the Yankees weren’t sure if Judge would be back or if he would sign with the San Francisco Giants or another team. I spoke with multiple Yankee officials and they were all searching for some clues and some answers. One of them even pressed his palms together to indicate he was saying a prayer.
When Steinbrenner, who is in Italy, spoke with Judge, who was in San Diego, in the wee hours of Wednesday, the owner asked the outfielder if he still wanted to be a Yankee. Judge confirmed that he did. The Yankees had offered Judge an 8-year, $320 million deal, but there was a belief that the San Diego Padres were amenable to giving him 10 years for $400 million. With that possibility looming, Steinbrenner boosted the Yankees’ offer and a tentative agreement was reached. The deal is pending a physical.
On Monday, General Manager Brian Cashman discussed the Judge negotiations by saying, “Hal is putting his money where his mouth is.” Cashman’s quotation became even more prescient after the way Steinbrenner kept Judge in the Bronx.
This was a monumental move by Steinbrenner and the Yankees because they absolutely needed to have Judge back on their team and and back in their clubhouse. Judge set an American League record with 62 homers in 2022, he won the MVP. and his at bats were must-see TV. George Steinbrenner, Hal’s father. often spoke about the importance of star players who “put fannies in the seats.” Judge puts more fannies in the seats than anyone in the major leagues.
In April, the Yankees offered Judge a strong and reasonable seven-year, $213.5 million contract, but he rejected it. Judge wanted to be paid similarly to Mike Trout, who earns about $36 million per year. So Judge said no to the Yankees and bet on himself. He managed one homer in his first 13 games, but he wound up surpassing Roger Maris’s 61-year old record in a historic season.
And now Judge also has a historic contract. Since Judge turns 31 in April, the nine-year contract is a huge commitment. The Yankees understand that players aren’t typically as productive in the back end of long-term contracts. But that didn’t matter to Steinbrenner right now. What mattered to Steinbrenner was doing everything he could to keep Judge in the Yankee family. What mattered was executing Plan A. There really wasn’t a Plan B.