Shortly after watching Aaron Judge calmly lace a 3-0 split-fingered fastball from Ryne Stanek into the left field corner to complete a pulsating comeback, manager Aaron Boone spoke glowingly about his star player who gave the Yankees their 52nd win in 70 games.
“He means everything to this team and certainly everything to this fanbase,” Boone said. “He embodies all that you want in your superstar player and I think it’s easy for these people to get behind him.”
A little after Boone’s complimentary words, Judge was coy about what lies ahead on Friday. He offered a smile when asked about the arbitration hearing and merely said “we’ll talk after.”
Boone’s words are the kind of things you would expect to hear from a proud parent at a wedding toast, or someone giving character testimony. It also was a well-timed remark considering Judge is entering the most interesting arbitration case in the history of the process which occasionally can get contentious such as the time Dellin Betances went into a hearing with the Yankees.
The difference then was Betances’ hearing occurred during the normal time in spring training. This time, Judge is coming off the 70th game of a season and the three-person arbitration panel deciding between his desire for $21 million and the Yankee desire of $17 million cannot take into any account of Judge’s numbers from this year.
The same numbers that show Judge is batting .304 with an MLB-best 27 homers and 53 RBIs to go along an OPS of 1,037. Those numbers put Judge on pace for 62 homers and 123 RBIs and most certainly on pace for contract well higher than something like seven years, $213 million.
It is the contract the Yankees announced to the media and the rest of the world caring about baseball they offered Judge before he rejected it. It was announced April 8, shortly before the delayed season began with the first of nine walk-off wins and the first of 52 Yankee wins heading into this interesting hearing.
And the reason this hearing is taking place at a unique time is because of the MLB lockout that dragged on through the winter and caused spring training to be delayed by nearly a month. Only now are arbitration hearings wrapping up and if it gets there, Judge’s hearing will be the most prominent one to date.
This is Judge’s third time going through arbitration but each time he settled, avoiding the ugliness where a team tries to diminish a player’s value.
After the 2019 season when he missed two months with an oblique injury while making slightly under $700,000, he signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal. Following the significantly truncated 2020 season when he was productive but also missed 32 games due to various injuries, the Yankees signed him to a one-year $10.2 million deal.
While playing under that deal, Judge performed liked the player who was paid about $545,000 in his rookie year of 2017. During the 2021 deal, Judge batted .287 with 39 homers and 98 RBIs — his highest total since hitting 52 homers and producing 114 runs in 2017 — and also finished fourth in the MVP race.
“It’s probably tough, but for me, it’s plain and simple,” Judge told reporters earlier this week. “I love this team. I love this organization. But this is the business side of it that I don’t like at times, a lot of people don’t like, I don’t think the team likes it, too. You’ve just got to go through it and handle it and move on.”
Of course, if the Yankees do not handle the offseason with him properly and he moves on, it is a move that infuriate a fanbase thoroughly enjoying this year after going through a tedious 92-win campaign in 2021.
“He is a huge part of our team,” Aaron Hicks said. “We hope for the best for our guys. We want him here as a Yankee, and we know Yankee fans do, too.”
In the meantime, those same fans will await word of the arbitration hearing or word of a settlement and hope it bodes well for whenever the offseason starts.