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What could an offseason Aaron Judge extension look like?

Breaking News: Aaron Judge is very good at baseball. For the first time since his rookie campaign, our 6-foot-7, 280 pound superstar is fully healthy. On one hand, that is a knock against him. On the other, it is a sign of what we could have locked up for the rest of his prime.

I understand that he’s approaching 30 and has a relatively lengthy rap sheet as far as injuries go. That being said, Judge is the heart and soul of this franchise. He wants to be a New York Yankee. He NEEDS to be named captain. When was the last time you felt something like this about a player? The recent, near-unanimous, Hall of Fame legend, Derek Jeter?

In this instance, it’s not just about the .290 batting average, the nearly .400 OBP, or the .538 SLG%. It’s not about the 34 home runs or the MVP-esque 149 OPS+. This is about being a true Yankee. Judge walks the walk and talks the talk. He’s a super star, yes. But what makes him a must-sign is that he is the de facto spokesman, good or bad, for the Yankees. His word carries more weight than anything that Aaron Boone could ever say.

Ladies and gentlemen, he is a true Yankee captain.

The GOOD half of the extension argument

“Injury-prone” is a phrase often associated with Judge. He is a behemoth, statue of a man, so it makes sense that he’ll have the occasional soft tissue injury. I.e. the calf strain of 2020 and the oblique strain of 2019. However, there is a reason for optimism going forward. Of Judge’s injuries, although it may seem untrue, at least half of them are freak accidents.

His four significant injuries are as follows:

  1. Oblique strain – possible cause for concern
  2. Chipped bone in the wrist from HBP – not his fault. If you hit this guy hard enough to break his wrist, that has to be a perfect catastrophe. This dude’s bones probably resemble that of a Woolly Mammoth.
  3. Calf strain – possible cause for concern.
  4. Broken rib and collapsed lung – we can all put two and two together, that’s a freak accident.

So, of the four injuries, only two are really that of an “injury-prone” player. It’s absolutely infuriating to see the typical Boone, “we thought Judgey could use a day off” response, however, as we’ve learned over four years now, that is over-management, not Judge.

Offensively, Judge is a top-five hitter in the league. Over his 6 seasons of Major League service time, he has averaged a fantastic .276/.386/.553 and a 150 OPS+. Advanced metrics wise, Judge is in the 95th or higher percentile in avg exit velo, max exit velo, xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, and Barrel%.

Moreover, despite being labeled as “injury-prone”, he’s actually putting up these stats in a 125 games played average (not counting the rest of this year, COVID-19 season or September call up). Judge has won a silver slugger, finished second in MVP, and will likely finish third this year for an MVP as well.

Defensively, Judge is an absolute wizard. It’s sad that it gets overlooked because he’s such a dominant hitter. So far in his career, he’s been a Gold Glove finalist as well as a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year winner. Quietly, he’s been probably the most reliable outfielder on the Yankees over the last three or four years.

The BAD half of the extension argument

Basically, this boils down to two things – age and injuries. He’ll be 30 at the beginning of next season, and he has missed significant time in three seasons. We all know how the Yankee front office handles contracts. They’re going to try to nickel and dime him, likely using this as their main tool. Like I said earlier, most of them are unlucky, but this does come into play.

This was as of July 8 – do with that what you may. There is no need to drag this out. Simply put, these are the only possible knocks to his game. If this is what deters Cashman (or whoever) from resigning/extending Judge, then they should be shamed in the streets of New York – Game of Thrones style.

Contract comparisons

Nick Castellanos – $64 million for four years. Signed at age 28 with an opt-out after two years.

Mookie Betts – $365 million for 12 years. Signed at age 27 through age 39.

Alex Bregman – $100 million for five years. Signed age 25 through 30.

George Springer – $150 million for six years. Signed at age 30 through 36.

I chose these four because I believe that it represents the quality of the player that he is, as well as the loose framework of an extension. There are key components of each that I like. Castellanos for instance, I like the comparable age and I like the structure. Betts – obviously Judge is not going to get 12 years, but he may at least be within shouting distance of the AAV. Minus the age, Bregman has the best combination of both years and AAV. Finally Springer. He has the right combo of everything, just slightly older and while great player, not quite the superstar Judge is.

Using these as the framework, I would think that any sort of Judge extension would likely take him through the end of his career, pay him like an upper-echelon outfielder with some AAV taken off for injury history, and would likely include some sort of opt-out around age 32 or 33 in the even that he stays healthy and wants more money.

Final Prediction

All things considered, factoring this season in, his past performances and everything else, Judge is going to get paid like a superstar, whether it’s from the Yankees or someone else. What makes the most sense to me is something along the lines of:

Seven years, $185 million | Player option after year two

This puts Judge right smack in the middle of Paul Goldschmidt and Bryce Harper in terms of AAV, while also keeping him a Yankee until he’s 38. The option after year two is there to restructure if he is healthy and continuing to play at an MVP level. Keep in mind that all long-term deals have the understanding that the latter years will presumably not be great. You’re giving this contract to keep your captain in pinstripes through his prime and bring home number 28.