Has it really come to this? New York Yankees slugger — and presumptive AL MVP — Aaron Judge has hit free agency for the first time. And while he could find himself back in pinstripes in 2023 and beyond, it's hardly a certainty.
With the annual winter meetings underway, and Jacob deGrom already hauling in a massive contract from the Texas Rangers, all eyes are on Judge. The most recent rumors have the expectation that he'll nab a nine-year contract from the winning bidder in free agency, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.
Here are the most recent MLB odds for teams favored to land Judge. However, they are currently off the board as of December 4.
Odds to be Aaron Judge's next team
|Team||Odds to land Aaron Judge|
|New York Yankees||-165|
|San Francisco Giants||+170|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||+550|
|New York Mets||+1,100|
|Boston Red Sox||+1,700|
|St. Louis Cardinals||+3,000|
|Los Angeles Angels||+3,000|
|All other teams||+10,000|
Odds courtesy of DraftKings, as of November 29, 2022. Odds OTB as of December 4.
The situation at a glance
The Yankees offered Aaron Judge $213.5 million over a seven-year extension before the 2022 season. The outfielder rejected the overtures, instead electing to bet on himself. This worked out beautifully for the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year winner, as he went on to slash .311/.425/.686 while setting a new AL and Yankees single-season record with 62 home runs. He narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown as Minnesota Twins infielder Luis Arraez finished the campaign with a .317 batting average.
New York issued Judge a qualifying offer, which was recently set at $19.65 million for the 2023 season. After unsurprisingly turning that down, if he signs with another team, the Yankees will be rewarded with a compensatory draft pick next summer.
Whether he returns to the Bronx or leaves for greener pastures elsewhere, Judge will almost certainly become the 10th player in MLB history to sign a contract worth north of $300 million, and no amount of draft-pick compensation will cool his market.
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Favorites to land Aaron Judge
New York Yankees (-165)
Despite the boos and the apparent growing tension in the Bronx, Judge's most likely destination for 2023 and beyond remains the Yankees, according to bookmakers. There's a case for familiarity and cementing a legacy as the next great Yankees superstar, joining the ranks of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Derek Jeter (among others), all of whom spent all or most of their careers donning Yankee pinstripes.
He's about to win AL MVP, which will make him the first Yankee to take home that particular hardware since Alex Rodriguez in 2007.
For what it's worth, The Athletic's Jim Bowden predicts New York will eventually pony up and re-sign the four-time All-Star to an eight-year, $330-million contract, keeping him in New York through his age-38 season.
And as an added bonus, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner generously said he'd "consider" giving Judge the ultra-important title of "captain" should he return (sarcasm heavily implied).
San Francisco Giants (+170)
The Giants may, at first blush, seem like an odd choice to lead the fray. San Francisco has been generally frugal with its free-agent pursuits. Johnny Cueto's six-year, $130-million contract in 2016 was the largest ever doled out by the Giants to an incoming player while the eight-year, $167-million extension given to Buster Posey ahead of 2013 served as the largest internal deal.
Together, those contracts don't exceed the $300 million — and then some — Judge is sure to command.
However, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will not be hamstrung by tight budgets this winter, which could open the door for some big spending. Judge is reportedly at the top of San Francisco's wishlist and if the Giants fail to sign him, it won't be because they got outbid, according to NJ.com's Randy Miller. San Francisco made overtures to acquire Giancarlo Stanton before he got scooped up by the Yankees, and Bryce Harper before he landed in Philly. It sounds like the Giants are looking to make sure they don't come up short again.
The Giants only have $71.5-million committed to payroll for 2023 after Carlos Rodon opted out of his contract, meaning the Giants are in a position to spend and spend big.
Judge would represent a sea change by the Bay. In 2007, Barry Bonds hit 28 home runs in what would be his final season with the Giants. Since then, in an era of pop off the bat, only one hitter has hit more in a season and that came when Brandon Belt hit 29 in 2021 (no Giants hitter has hit 30 or more in a season since 2004 Bonds).
And while Oracle Park is decidedly pitcher-friendly, Judge possesses the kind of power — like Bonds did — that can't really be contained by any ballpark. Oh, and while the "hometown destination" is perhaps a worn-out narrative, Judge did go to high school in Linden, California, which is just down the road from Oracle Park.
Los Angeles Dodgers (+550)
The rich get richer, right? Well, this is certainly a possibility.
With Trea Turner and Craig Kimbrel among Los Angeles' free agents, significant money is coming off the books. And if there is a concern about where exactly Judge would play, incumbent right fielder Mookie Betts is reportedly willing to move back to second base to facilitate such a move, according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com.
The California connection is also a likely narrative factor, as it is with San Francisco, but so too would the Dodgers' track record. Los Angeles is not only as consistently competitive as New York (perhaps more so), but the Dodgers have actually won a World Series in the last decade.
The Dodgers would potentially be more inviting in terms of lineup protection, too. Still, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic speculates that Los Angeles can't be expected to go hard after Judge after giving six years and $162 million to Freddie Freeman a year ago. That would tie up a lot of payroll to aging stars in a few years time.
New York Mets (+1,100)
Mets owner Steve Cohen hasn't been shy about throwing his money around, inking the likes of Francisco Lindor to a lucrative extension and adding Max Scherzer via free agency. What better way to make a splash this offseason after a frustrating finish than by adding Judge and keeping him in New York while also aggravating the Yankees fanbase?
One roadblock might be a similar situation brewing with ace right-hander Jacob deGrom. Like Judge, deGrom is a free agent for the first time and is intent on testing the waters after not signing an extension in Flushing. Should the Mets make deGrom a priority, it might make targeting Judge a tad tricky, especially with luxury tax implications looming.
Now, Cohen has the deepest pockets imaginable and, unlike many other owners in recent years, hasn't been afraid to dig in. With a desire to return the Mets back to championship glory for the first time since 1986, landing both deGrom and Judge would be a coup.
Boston Red Sox (+1,700)
In what would be perhaps the most entertaining outcome, Judge jumping ship to Boston would make him a permanent enemy of the Yankees fanbase. Though, this kind of epic betrayal has been more often perpetrated in the other direction.
Red Sox stars like Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, and Jacoby Ellsbury — and, more recently, Andrew Benintendi — all wound up in the Bronx after sowing their oats in Beantown. And that's without even mentioning the Babe Ruth trade that the superstitious among us believe was the cause of Boston's 80+ year championship drought.
And while the Red Sox outfield does have a considerable hole in right field at the moment, Boston might be more focused on securing third baseman Rafael Devers on a long-term extension than pursuing Judge in any meaningful way. Besides that, the Red Sox could also attempt to bring back infielder Xander Bogaerts, who is also a high-profile free agent but one who will cost considerably less than Judge.