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Aaron Judge’s Bet on Himself is Paying Off

Aaron Judge rejected the Yankees’ contract extension offer last offseason and so far, that’s looking like a wise decision.

Passing up a guaranteed $200 million is almost never a good idea.

That’s generational wealth — enough to live comfortably for many, many decades. But that’s exactly what New York Yankees All-Star outfielder Aaron Judge did just before the start of the regular season, the final year before he hits free agency in November. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters prior to Opening Day that the team offered the slugger a seven-year, $213 million contract on top of the $17 million Judge will receive in arbitration for the 2022 campaign.

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Judge rejected that offer, betting that his play on the field during his contract year would bring him even more lucrative overtures on the open market next offseason — perhaps upwards of $300 million. So far the 30-year-old’s bet on himself is working out spectacularly, both for him and the Yankees, who have baseball’s best record at 29-12 at the quarter pole of the season. He’s slashing .318/.389/.676 with 15 home runs, 31 RBIs, and 33 runs scored, making him an early contender for American League MVP and a fixture in numerous league leader categories.

Here’s where Judge stacks up with the rest of the American League:

  • First with 15 homers, leading the next player by three dingers
  • First with 9.9 at-bats per home run
  • Second in bWAR with 2.3, trailing only Mike Trout
  • Second with his 33 runs scored, behind Trout
  • Second with 100 total bases, trailing only Rafael Devers
  • Second with 39 runs created
  • Third with his .676 slugging percentage
  • Third with his 1.065 OPS
  • Third in OPS+ at +209, with the league average at +100
  • Third with 23 extra base hits
  • Sixth with 47 total hits
  • Ninth with his .389 on-base percentage
  • 10th with his .318 batting average

Judge’s average and slugging numbers are career bests — you could say his stats are all rise — and he is on pace to hit 60 homers and register his best season since 2017, when he hit 52 home runs, drove in 114 and finished second in MVP voting to Jose Altuve (we can table that 2017 Houston Astros conversation for another time).

For someone as large as Judge, there’s definitely concern about injury or his body breaking down in his next contract, the life of which will be played out entirely in Judge’s 30s. But the Fresno State product has been reasonably durable over the course of his career Yes, he’s had injuries, missing more than half of the truncated 2020 season, 60 games in 2019, and 50 games in 2018, but those were injuries like a cracked rib and fractured wrist, which won’t be re-aggravated.

Of course if Judge keeps up this torrid pace, the Yankees are going to have competition for his services. Could you imagine Judge next to Mookie Betts in the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield? Would the San Francisco Giants bring Judge back home, just 94 miles southwest from where he grew up in Linden? How about Judge in a lineup with Trout and Shohei Ohtani with the Los Angeles Angels? How much drama would there be if a team like the New York Mets or Boston Red Sox tried prying Judge away from the Bronx?

Certainly no one would’ve blamed Judge for securing the bag before the season and taking $230 million to enjoy the good life. But at 30 years old, he rejected the Yankees and wanted to prove that he deserves more. Judge’s bet on himself has so far paid off, as he’s determined to carry the Yankees to their first World Series title since 2009 and become Major League Baseball’s next $300 million man.

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