baseball

Aaron Judge’s Giants flirtation could be Yankees’ last misread

The Yankees have never been good at reading Aaron Judge, especially when it comes to salary matters.

There is a Terminator quality to the slugger. He betrays little emotion when it comes to these matters. Oh, he says all the words the organization wants to hear when it comes to his future, notably that his desire has been to be a Yankee for life. That fits into Hal Steinbrenner’s public position, which is that he would like to make judge a forever Yankee.

But when there was a chance to do that late in spring training, the Yankees had frustration. Judge not only rejected their seven-year, $213.5 million extension that would begin in 2023, but never to the team’s mind provided exactly what it would take to make a long-term deal.

The sides then had to determine his 2022 salary. The Yankees offered $17 million, Judge countered at $21 million. Last offseason’s lockout forced arbitration hearings to the regular season. Judge’s was the last one — June 24. At noon. Both sides were in the room ready to argue their cases before this game of chicken led to a midpoint settlement at $19 million.

Thus, Judge has shown he will sit, unflinching, at the poker table with the Yankees. And so far he has been the winner in these stare-downs. That $213.5 million offer feels as relevant today as Jacoby Ellsbury’s Yankee career. Judge hit 62 homers amid one of the best seasons in history. Thus, microscopically moving him above Mookie Betts’ average value of $30.42 million to be the second-highest per annum paid outfielder at $30.5 million is not going to get it done.

Aaron Judge has kept a good poker face during this free-agency period, The Post's Joel Sherman writes.
Aaron Judge has kept a good poker face during this free-agency period, The Post’s Joel Sherman writes.
Photo illustration: Jen Cozzolino
Aaron Judge flies out during the ALCS against the Astros.
Aaron Judge flies out during the ALCS against the Astros.
AP

Judge had alluded to Mike Trout’s $35.54 million average record in spring discussions. And that all but seems certain to be beaten by Judge now. A $40 million average is now in play. So it is a length of eight or nine years.

Judge even won the arbitration. He received two performance bonuses as part of the settlement, one was $250,000 if he won the AL MVP. Judge did win and, thus, moved over the midpoint between the $17 million the Yanks offered and his $21 million ask. The other bonus Judge received in setting his 2022 salary without an arbitration was $250,000 if he won the World Series MVP, which went unpaid. Judge has insisted that winning a title, not individual accolades, is his quest.


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So what does he think of the Giants? Because Judge is not flinching again at the poker table. The Yankees made it clear to Judge that they are willing to lavish huge dollars to retain him. Yet, Judge was scheduled to meet Tuesday with the Giants.

Aaron Judge was spotted in San Francisco on Monday night.
Aaron Judge was spotted in San Francisco on Nov. 21, 2022.
Jon Morosi/Twitter
Aaron Judge on Oct.  23, 2022.
Aaron Judge on Oct. 23, 2022.
GettyImages

Self-assurance is not a problem judge. The Giants’ chances of being a top contender rise with Judge. The only players San Francisco has signed for 2024 are Anthony DeSclafani and Wilmer Flores for a total of $18.5 million. So the Giants have plenty of payroll space for Judge and more — and once a team signs Judge, considering what the cost will be, you are not playing just to be good. You are going for it.

So is Judge out in the marketplace because he still doesn’t like what he is hearing from the Yankees? Because why get here — drafted, minor leagues and six years in the majors — and not hear what other organizations will offer? Because he didn’t like the postseason booing and wanted out? Because he ultimately wants to return to the Yankees but understands at this poker table he has to play out every hand to win the most?

“I have no anticipation for anything ever in free agency,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said by phone Tuesday when asked if he expected Judge to go out on a free-agent tour. Everybody does what they want to do. Whether they want to do it because they are interested or do it because it’s leverage, I don’t know.”

The Yankees have had one-team talks with star free agents they wanted to retain such as Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia. And they have had David Cone (particularly with the Orioles) and Bernie Williams (particularly with the Red Sox) push close to signing elsewhere before luring them back. This is the path that Judge is on now. He is out on tour. The Giants are a real possibility. So might be the Dodgers and others.

Judge has shown a willingness to play poker with the Yankees. But in the previous instances, he couldn’t leave. Now he can. It is even more leverage. And while he didn’t get that World Series bonus, Judge has shown a fearlessness at the table that positions him well to win this version of the World Series of Poker.

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