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Aaron Judge needs to be Aaron Freaking Judge this year

It would be hard to argue that the newly acquired Gerrit Cole is the most important Yankee this year. The $300 million man was not signed for nine years and that much money to not make a significant impact on not only this season but many, many more to come.

Without him, the Yankees won 103 games last year, winning their division, poised to make a run in the postseason before falling to who we can all assume is the most hated team in sports, the Houston Astros. Whether or not they were cheating in 2019 remains to be seen, (as does Jose Altuve’s supposedly ugly tattoo),  but I digress. The Yankees felt it necessary and important to get their man in the offseason, and they did.

Signing Gerrit Cole would put them over the top and make them clear front runners to represent the American League in the 2020 World Series. So it’s easy to see why someone like Cole would be the most important player of this Yankee team.

There is no wrong answer, but there are obvious ones. Cole is essential, but he still only pitches once and every five days. He cannot impact the game on an everyday basis the way position players can. However, position players can only impact the games they actually play in. And last year, nearly every position player on the roster couldn’t stay on the field, including Aaron Judge.

This year, he’s the most important player on this roster.

We won’t go on and list the 135,678 players that hit the Injured List last year for the Yankees (okay, that’s exaggerated… a little). That would take five years, but we will list some things about Aaron Judge. It’s hard to critique a guy who does everything right, plays his heart out, and has taken on the role of a Derek Jeter for this team, with a slightly better personality (no offense to the GOAT but it’s true). But if there’s one thing we can all agree on that we need to see from Judge this year, it’s obvious.

He needs to stay on the field.

Over the last two years, Judge has missed 110 games, 52 games shy of a full season. Aside from his elite rookie season in 2017 where he was on the field for 155 games, Judge has had his fair share of time on the Injured List. He’s now building a reputation of being an “injury-prone” star, noting his size and stature as a reason he won’t possibly sustain a long, healthy career.

His projections from Baseball-Reference for 2020 show the same lack of confidence as many other critics. He’s projected to have 473 plate appearances this year. This rounds out to about 105/106 games played, and guess what? He hasn’t played a spring training game yet because of a “cranky” shoulder. How do we know this won’t linger all season long?

We don’t, but the projections say otherwise.

Sure, the Yankees won 103 games last year and Judge had missed 60 games with a core injury, but does this team really want to try that again? Do the Yankees really want to send everyone back to the Injured List and dance with the devil for the second time? To see if the “Next Man Up” magic is still there? Or would they rather have a healthy roster, being the fully operational death-star machine Cashman hopes they are?

Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, James Paxton, and not-so-smart Domingo German are already bringing the Yankees closer to flirting with the devil once more. If Aaron Judge goes down, they may as well go dancing once again.

Judge is the key to a 2020 World Series Championship. The Yankees, the fans, and most importantly, Aaron Judge, want a healthy year (or two). It’s not only essential for bringing a World Series back to the Bronx but essential in our hopes as fans to keep Judge here for a long time.

The question is, do the Yankees keep him? If he stays healthy and has two monstrous years, there is no doubt he will test the free-agent market. Will he be asking too high a price to stay in pinstripes? Will teams shy away from a long term deal because of his size? Will he give the Yankees a hometown discount?

However, if he continues to get injured, he may very well come to the Yankees in hopes to sign a long term deal knowing he won’t get it elsewhere. At that point, though, will the Yankees even want him?

And, as hard as it is to ask this question as fans of our beloved Aaron Judge, we have to ask it…

Will we?