Players moving in Major League Baseball isn’t anything new. We saw Bryce Harper and Manny Machado leave the Orioles and Nationals at 26-years-old last year. Something about the Mookie Betts traded out of Boston feels different though. DC and Baltimore are good baseball towns, but this is Boston.
Despite living through an 86-year drought that came to an end in 2004 (sorry), the Red Sox have always been a Mecca in the baseball universe. Part of being a baseball Mecca is your ballpark, and Fenway sits in the same baseball lore with Chavez Ravine, Wrigley, and of course, the Bronx. This is why when you see a player like Mookie Betts leave, and leave because the team didn’t want to pay him, it almost doesn’t seem real. Those historically good players stick it out with their historically great teams — especially in the prime of their career.
This didn’t happen with Mookie Betts. Betts is out of Boston. It is the kind of move that feels NBA-ish.
Apparently dollars were the main issue for Boston, but look at what Betts has done up until this point.
113 Defensive Runs Saved
A One-team Kind of Man
We can go down the list from generation to generation of the great players who stayed in one city their whole career. Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Bob Gibson, Kirby Puckett and Cal Ripken Jr. never moved. More recently we saw the captains from their respective boroughs in David Wright and Derek Jeter beginning and ending their careers in New York.
In 2020 though it feels almost like an anomaly that a player can stay on one team for a prolonged period of time. Yadier Molina, Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman and Joey Votto all staying is becoming rarer and rarer. This is why it just begs the question: Will Aaron Judge be a member of the New York Yankees his whole career? Will he join that anomalous list?
I have faith he will but man, who knows…
Aaron’s Contract Judgement
Aaron Judge caught on in the Bronx quickly. When Alex Rodriguez retired in 2016, Judge stepped in as his replacement — literally. In his first game, with Joe Torre ironically in the broadcast booth, Judge hit a blast right over the center field wall. He struck out in about half his at-bats for the short duration that year, but 2017 was his true coming out party, hitting bomb after bomb and endearing himself to fans to the point that by May there was already the Judge’s Chambers in right field.
He has defined a generation of Yankee fans the way Derek Jeter did before him, Don Mattingly before Jeter, and Thurman Munson before Mattingly. Aaron Judge has to stay, right?
I’m sure Red Sox fans were thinking the same thing in 2018 when both the eye test and his advanced stats agreed on one thing: Mookie Betts was the king of Boston. He is the true heir to David Ortiz. Or so they thought.
Putting up more than a 10 fWAR made him feel like the king of the universe as well. Mike Trout only reached such a feat twice in his career and you’d have to go all the way back to 2012 and 2013 for that. After taking Clayton Kershaw deep in the World Series in that deciding game in Los Angeles, they probably never thought the party was going to end.
At around 8 PM Tuesday night it did. Boston and Mookie ended their relationship. That city will most likely be a footnote in a legendary career.
The reason for it made sense (I guess). Just imagine telling kids the reason their hearts got ripped out was because Mookie wanted to be a hero to the player’s union. (And John Henry probably wants to buy Jeffrey Epstein’s island on the cheap.) To tell a kid that makes me feel dead inside. I enjoy drinking the tears of Red Sox fans but even I wouldn’t do that.
It’s worse than saying Santa isn’t real. Santa doesn’t hit with runners in scoring position.
Mookie Betts understands his importance to the union and wanted to get to free agency, as Gerrit Cole did, to push the free agent $ ceiling for the union brethren. That is his right. Leaving Red Sox with a choice: deal him, or get almost nothing for him if he walked away.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 5, 2020
We’d like to think this won’t be Aaron Judge, but if he’s faced with an expectancy from ownership to take a hometown discount, do you blame him for testing the free agent waters? Maybe not full-on admitting he’s going into free agency the way Mookie Betts did, but putting out some feelers — the kind of feelers that are a warning to the Steinbrenner family.
Maybe this isn’t a warning to the level of a horse head in Hank’s bed but it should get the message across nonetheless. Just look at where Judge’s tats rank in the league since 2017 (minimum 1000 AB’s):
Here are some categories where he has been one of the more dominant players in baseball:
18.0 fWAR (6th)
106 HR (8th)
.401 OBP (4th)
.572 SLG (4th)
.973 OPS (3rd)
157 wRC+, (3rd)
.405 wOBA (3rd)
48.6% Hard Hit % (1st)
16.5% BB% (2nd)
According to Fangraphs his 17.8 fWAR has been valued at $142.7 million. This year in arbitration he earned his first contract over a million dollars ($8.5 million). Those Fangraphs values are ridiculous at times — Gerrit Cole being valued at over $70 million in 2019 as an example — but it still shows the bargain the Yankees have got in Judge the past three season.
There’s a discrepancy and if everybody is getting paid, we can’t blame Aaron Judge for wanting the same. He’s our spiritual captain but he’s also human.
What we can hope for is he gets paid with the Yankees.
To Keep Judge
Bill Simmons has kicked around theories on what the secret of basketball is for close to a decade now. He asked Bill Russell, and Russell’s answer is something that can be said of Judge.
I always thought that the most important measure of how good a game I played was how much better I made my teammates play.
That’s how it feels with Aaron Judge. There were the Yankees before Judge arrived. They were slow. They looked old. Aging veterans made up a team that relied more on the glory days and retiring numbers to keep morale high within the fan base. Then there was a world after Aaron Judge.
A post-Aaron Judge Yankee team took over New York. Fans fell in love with a new group of guys all over again. Obviously baseball is complicated and one person doesn’t make a team, but it’s undeniable that he’s the nucleus.
This is why it feels like it goes against the natural, human instincts of baseball to have this end for the reason of something as bland as helping the player’s union. Look, I get the union is important. I get the players deserve to be paid market value because of how much revenue the sport makes. I get owners like John Henry are trading away generational talent because they’re cheap bastards who want to avoid taxes.
I just keep coming back to this thought. Imagine a kid from Washington Heights or the Bronx learning the news that Aaron Judge was traded or he left in free agency? That’s brutal.
Imagine trying to say to that kid it’s because of the union. It doesn’t feel right. At that point you’re just handing over the future of your sport to other sports.
Hopefully the Yankees pay Judge. Hopefully there’s a real negotiation unlike what happened in Boston. Losing him like Boston lost Mookie would straight up be embarrassing for the Steinbrenners. We get it. You got Gerrit Cole. Doesn’t mean you can’t keep Aaron Judge.