Aaron Judge's epic run to 62 homers transcended contract year tension. Can the Yankees really let history go?
On opening day, we didn’t know how much the New York Yankees would pay Aaron Judge this year. We knew he had turned down a $213.5 million extension offer, leaving open the possibility that the 2022 season would be his last in the Bronx.
We knew he would be closely watched, a barely precedent superstar playing out a contract year as the face of the game’s most storied franchise. He didn’t homer in that first game, but by the time the sides settled on a $19 million salary on June 24, he had gone deep 27 times.
A few months later, all eyes have been glued to Judge’s at-bats for a different reason. He just finished rewriting the AL home run record book, surpassing Roger Maris with his 62nd homer. Threatening to win the Triple Crown, he’s turning in the sort of offensive performance we haven’t seen since Barry Bonds.
Back when Judge turned down the extension offer — which longtime general manager Brian Cashman promptly disclosed to the public to accentuate how reasonable it seemed — there were plenty of parameters and comparisons to consider.
Judge will be 31 when the 2023 season begins. Recent history has discouraged teams from heaping long-term commitments on players after age 30. Funnily enough, fellow home run history-maker Albert Pujols’ steep decline with the Angels was often Exhibit A. (Maybe the real lesson is to not sign with the Angels.)
At 6-foot-7, Judge is a remarkable athlete who has proven himself competent in center field this season in the Yankees’ time of need. History also doesn’t look favorably upon Judge’s chances of aging gracefully. Since integration in 1947, only six hitters standing 6-foot-5 or taller have managed a baseline star-level 3-WAR season after age 33.
The best of those came from Mark McGwire, potentially aided by performance-enhancing drugs