Aaron Judge will win the contract showdown with the Yankees

Aaron Judge just got bigger than his oversized readings. He left Toronto and returned to New York as little more than the 6-foot-7, 282-pound hitter who wants a richer long-term contract than the Yankees are willing to give him.

He returned as the lead in a passion play that captured everything that was right about competitive sports in general and baseball in particular. At its core, baseball is about making kids happy. It’s about getting a little boy in the stands a ball.

The adults in the left seats at Rogers Center the other night tried and failed to get 9-year-old Yankees fan Derek Rodriguez a ball during warm-up and between the innings. Judge made it happen by hurling a full-count four-seamer 427 feet into the arms of a friendly Blue Jays fan, Mike Lanzillotta, whose delivery to the kid in the Judge’s jersey sparked a multi-nation love fest that that early struggle for control of the least.

And when Judge was introduced to the two strangers who went viral from his blast, he turned the pre-game dugout meeting into a case study of how a top athlete should handle things like this. “I still get goosebumps when I see little kids wearing my number, my shirt,” said the right fielder afterwards.

Timing is everything in life and baseball, and Judge’s was perfect. As the top player on the best team in the sport, the only way he was doing his job was to hit that home run. But the Toronto scene was bigger than the game and a reminder why the Yankees could win anything this year but their contract dispute with Judge.

Aaron Richter
Aaron Richter

The club loses this to the right fielder as long as he remains on the field.

You’ll recall that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman threw the ceremonial first pitch (it was high and tight) on opening day by announcing that Judge had turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million renewal offer , which would have put its eight-year package north of $230 million. The player wasn’t thrilled with the public disclosure, but Cashman wanted his paying customers to know the Yankees weren’t messing around. No problem there.

The judge said he would not resume negotiations during the season, while the GM left open the option to do just that. This is a deal that must be completed before Judge gets a free hand in the fall.

But hey, Cashman has never been scared of a big name, big money fight. He lost to Bernie Williams in the last second as a rookie GM in 1998, well before he beat an aging Derek Jeter over 12 rounds to earn the unanimous decision in their 2010 title shot. And though that stare down with Jeter’s face-of-the- Franchise sequels lack the poignancy and drive that characterized Cashman vs. The Captain, there’s still time to spill blood.

Judge remains the big favorite to prevail because of who he is and what he represents. Given that no major league player his size has ever been athletic enough to play midfield with relative ease, Judge is baseball’s most unique player not named Shohei Ohtani.

Additionally, as a gentle (if not jolly) giant who swings after the moon, he fits Yankee mythology better than anyone else. They don’t call them the Bronx Bombers for nothing, you know. Every referee is an event to drop everything and watch, and that has its value. Great value. Just like Judge carries himself.

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman

Jeter set the standard for wearing the pinstripes properly to dodge controversy and scandal while enjoying the swag of New York, New York celebrity. The judge more or less followed. If your most notable sin is getting annoyed when YES Network cameras focus on you in the dugout, you’re doing pretty well.

What is this intangible value? And how much can the Yankees deduct from the judge’s package because he’s 30 years old and has a history of injuries?

Though the numbers the Americans offered were staggering for the average fan — which is exactly why Cashman included them on the list — the overall value of the deal wouldn’t make baseball’s top dozen. (This list ranges from #12, Anthony Rendon, at $245 million, to #1, Mike Trout, at $426.5 million, according to Of course, a more relevant list could be consulted Sportico’s most recent franchise valuation ranking put the Yankees first at $7.01 billion, ahead of America’s Dallas Cowboys at $6.92 billion.

So what’s a homegrown blockbuster like Judge worth to a $7 billion company?

With nine homers and 1,009 OPS, Judge hasn’t allowed his contract situation and pending arbitration hearing (about his 2022 salary) to negatively affect his game. But his case isn’t just based on numbers. Twenty, thirty years from now, kids named for Judge will be waiting in the outer stands for a home run ball like a kid named for Jeter was waiting for him on a Tuesday night in Toronto.

Just as young Jeffrey Maier remained a part of Jeter’s story, young Derek Rodriguez will remain a part of Judge’s story. The right fielder put that kid in his No. 99 jersey on the pitches for reasons the Yankees will have to pay for. You can either pay now or pay later Aaron Judge will win the contract showdown with the Yankees


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