This time the Yankees decided Aaron Judge was worth the extra money, but they sure did wait until the last minute to let him know.
Judge and the Yankees avoided their scheduled arbitration hearing Friday, with the two sides settling on a $19 million salary for this year, a source confirmed. The agreement means that Judge was not subject to the arbitration process, an often contentious, sometimes relationship-souring bit of bureaucracy that generally is reserved for the offseason but was scheduled in June this year because of the lockout.
“We were logged in and ready to go — all dressed up,” Judge said of the scheduled arbitration meeting, which was set to be held over Zoom. “I was just happy to settle. If I would have been in that room, I probably would have missed the game tonight. That didn’t sit too well with me.”
The Yankees originally filed at $17 million in arbitration and Judge’s camp filed at $21 million. The two sides eventually met at the halfway point, but with incentives: In addition to the base salary, Judge stands to make $250,000 if he is named American League MVP and another $250,000 if he’s the World Series MVP.
“You wonder when you’re going through it why” it took so long to meet in the middle, Judge said. “I didn’t ask. I didn’t feel the need. It’s a business. They’ve got their side, they’ve got things they’re doing on their side . . . I’m just thankful to get past this and get it done and go back to focusing on winning some games here.”
By avoiding the hearing, the Yankees sidestepped having to enumerate all the reasons they don’t think Judge is worth the extra money in front of a panel of arbitrators, a move that likely helped them avoid further souring a relationship with a player who can be a free agent after this season.
Before the season, the Yankees offered Judge a seven-year, $213.5 million extension, which Judge declined. Judge, who reportedly was seeking something closer to the 10-year, $360 million range, has said he will not discuss an extension in season, paving the way for him to hit free agency in the offseason. He reiterated that intention Friday.
Judge previously publicly took exception to general manager Brian Cashman’s decision to reveal the length and value of the offered contract to reporters, uncommon in that those numbers generally are leaked rather than announced outright.
By reaching agreement with Judge, however, the Yankees keep themselves firmly in the conversation. Cashman said earlier in the season that he would not completely rule out coming to a contract agreement with Judge before the end of the season but added that those negotiations would not play out on a public stage.
Either way, one thing is clear: Judge is betting on himself and winning.
Judge hit a walk-off single against the Astros on Thursday and is on his way to a career year. He’s leading baseball with 27 home runs and 58 runs and has a slash line of .299/.374/.648.
He’s tied for second in wins above replacement, behind only Manny Machado, and is on pace for more than 60 home runs, which, if accomplished, would put him in the same stratosphere as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in their career-defining seasons.
He’s done all that with the looming specter of an uncertain future, and Aaron Boone said Friday that it’s a testament to Judge’s focus.
“I’m pleased, getting that news today,” Boone said. “If you just dropped me in and if I didn’t know him and I didn’t know the situation, maybe [I’d be surprised at how focused he’s stayed], but it’s who he is.
“I actually think it’s easy for him to separate. He loves, as much as anyone, to compete between the lines with his teammates. It’s why he’s so revered in [the clubhouse]. He’s about winning.”
That much is true, and it could become the reason Judge ends up winning the contract gamble, too.