The Yankees Had To Sign Aaron Judge, And That’s A Problem
If the Yankees failed to sign star outfielder Aaron Judge this offseason, a quick run through Twitter suggests that fans of the team would have revolted and carried GM Brian Cashman out of his office like Louis XVI.
AARON JUDGE IS STAYING! pic.twitter.com/iWPADxKa44
— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) December 7, 2022
On Wednesday, Judge finally accepted New York’s offer, a nine-year contract worth $360 million. Cashman lives to rule another day over a system that has produced six straight playoff berths and no championships since 2017. But signing Judge isn’t a solution or innovation — it’s merely a continuation of the same flawed philosophy that has doomed this team to bridesmaid status for the better part of a decade.
It’s not that the Yankees are a bad team. It’s hard to be bad in Major League Baseball with a top-5 payroll. But nevertheless, New York has been the American League’s paper tiger for the better part of a decade now, and to understand the reasons behind that, one must only look at the Houston Astros.
The 2022 Astros’ World Series team vaguely resembles their 2017 team, but a closer look at the organization reveals vast differences. A few faces may be familiar, but key players like Carlos Correa and George Springer are long gone. Now playing for more money elsewhere, they have been swiftly replaced in Houston’s organization. This is how the dynasty works.
In 2022, Houston only paid two players more than $20 million and both delivered. Jose Altuve, the longtime face of the franchise, proved to be an invaluable piece in the lineup while Justin Verlander proved that he could still dominate on the mound at age 40 and earned another Cy Young Award.
But on a roster chock full of recognizable stars, the most valuable player on the Astros last season was Yordan Alvarez. As a monstrous designated hitter, the 25-year-old hit 37 homes runs and batted .306 over the course of the season. Houston only had to pay him $764,000.
In fact, besides Altuve and Verlander, the Astros had three other players make the All-Star Game on salaries of $3 million or less. This is how a team wins championships — players who are paid to be great sustain their value and younger talent steps up. This is a massive source of misunderstanding within the Yankees organization.
When it comes to young talent, New York is comparable to many contenders in the league. Gleyber Torres continues to impress while players like Oswaldo Cabrera appear green at times but could improve with more seasoning. The team has also demonstrated a knack for finding hidden gems, as Nestor Cortes and Matt Carpenter emerged as key stars in 2022 on the way to a playoff run.
These facets of the organization, along with Judge’s inhuman MVP season, are what made the team successful in 2022. The exorbitant payroll had little to do with it, because oddly enough, one of the most notorious big-market teams in baseball seems to struggle most at the high rollers’ table these days.
In 2022, the Yankees paid seven players more than $15 million, and with the exception of Judge, one could argue that every single one of those players are not worth their contract. Paying Aroldis Chapman $16 million is the most obvious waste, as Chapman was horrendous all season and didn’t even make the playoff roster. D.J. LeMahieu’s $15 million salary is relatively inoffensive, though he has regressed since the 2020 season that motivated New York to re-sign him. Anthony Rizzo’s two-year deal for $40 million is also excusable, even if he is making more money now than he ever did as a perennial All-Star for the Cubs.
Taking Josh Donaldson’s bloated contract off the Twins’ hands can be seen as the first glaring error for the Yankees, as Donaldson has clearly regressed in recent years. But if overpaying players like Chapman and Donaldson were the only errors the team made, they still could have built a roster to beat the Astros. It’s a shame they also had to pay Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole.
Both on paper and on the field, Cole and Stanton aren’t bad players. Both made the 2022 All-Star Game and both were key contributors to the team. The problem is that they make more than $60 million combined. Following a pair of stellar seasons for the Astros, Cole was signed by the Yankees to a nine-year, $324 million contract before the 2020 season. He has been solid since coming to the Bronx, but he hasn’t been the ace the team paid for.
Similarly, the Yankees signed Stanton after a massive year as well. Coming off a 2017 MVP season for the Marlins in which he hit 57 home runs, he agreed to a gargantuan 13-year, $325 million deal with New York. He hasn’t come close to repeating such a season since, as injuries and other age-related issues have made him a liability more often than not.
It’s undeniable at this point that the Yankees have a massive payroll and aren’t using it properly. The organization has a habit of paying players at the zenith of their careers and watching their returns diminish more and more over the course of painful long-term deals. The Astros, the bane of the Bombers’ existence in recent years, have less money at their disposal but simply allocate it at an elite level. A true dynasty knows when to sign a player for life. They buy when they need to, but they build too.
Judge is coming off a record-breaking season, one that makes him deserving of the massive pay raise he just received. But if the goal is to win a World Series any time soon, the Yankees will have all the money in the world — except the $108 million they’re going to owe Judge, Stanton and Cole in 2023. Or 2024. Or 2025 or…
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