PITTSBURGH – Yankees fans on pins and needles regarding Aaron Judge’s future in pinstripes likely are going to continue to be in a state of anxiety going into the winter.
That was the primary takeaway from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner’s Zoom news conference Wednesday afternoon, the owner’s first media availability since early in spring training.
“I completely agreed with Aaron, and still do, that in no way, shape or form, can this be a distraction,” Steinbrenner said of contract talks, which he didn’t rule out taking place during the season but made clear if they do, they won’t be publicized. “So the sole focus is winning a championship. That’s all anyone needs to worry about right now. We’ll see where we end up.”
The Yankees tried to extend Judge before the season and general manager Brian Cashman made public the offer the outfielder ultimately turned down just before Opening Day – an eight-year package in the range of $230.5 million.
That unusual move by a team, including the Yankees, to make the offer public did not go over well with Judge, though Steinbrenner defended it, essentially indicating someone would have leaked the numbers anyway.
“We knew it was going to get out anyway,” Steinbrenner said. “And as Cash said, we wanted to be as transparent as possible.”
Judge, even with the mini-slump he’s in – 5-for-28 (.179) going into Wednesday night’s game – is a frontrunner for AL MVP. Going into Wednesday Judge – who avoided arbitration with the club recently by agreeing to a $19 million salary for this season – was hitting .281 with a .972 OPS and an MLB-leading 29 homers.
But Steinbrenner said the 30-year-old's torrid start doesn’t have him reevaluating the organization’s approach to an extension before the season.
“We made an offer that I feel was a very good one,” Steinbrenner said. “It was based on the numbers, of course, but it was also based in part on what he means to this organization. It was a combination of both. And we just didn’t get a deal done. We had less time, of course, this offseason than we would normally because of the lockout and all, but there’s no regrets. And we’re going to be having discussions at some point.”
Does Steinbrenner feel, given Judge’s start and starring role on a team that is an MLB-best 58-23, the next offer to the outfielder will have to be significantly more than what he turned down before the season?
“It’s a hypothetical,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve got three months, hopefully four months, left in the season. I don’t know. I don’t know. We’re halfway through the season. Is it a possibility? Of course it’s a possibility. But cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Steinbrenner described Judge’s season to this point as “phenomenal.”
“And not only his play on the field but his leadership has been phenomenal,” Steinbrenner said. “He’s a guy that’s confident, a great talent and he believes in himself, and that’s what you’re seeing this year. And we’re all thrilled.”
Asked if he was “optimistic” regarding Judge being a Yankee long term, Steinbrenner said, “There’s no doubt we’re hopeful that is the case.”
Still, he added: “But there’s a lot of discussion to be had. And I’m always willing to talk, of course, and we’re going to be doing that at one point or another, but we’re just not going to be talking [publicly] about if that happens and when it happens. We’re not going to be talking about anything until the season’s over.”