TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Judge said he isn’t the least bit "concerned" the Yankees have yet to engage him or his representatives regarding a contract extension, but the All-Star rightfielder said the clock is ticking for those talks to take place.
"April 7 we won’t be talking about this," Judge said Tuesday. "We won’t be talking with the Yankees, we’ll be focused on winning ballgames for the Yankees."
April 7, of course, is the Yankees’ season-opener against the Red Sox at the Stadium. And while Judge, who has said multiple times in the past – and repeated again Tuesday – that he wants to spend his entire career in pinstripes, didn’t sound at all threatening in his tone, he made clear if extension talks don’t occur before the season, those will have to wait until season’s end.
"The last thing I want to do is be in the middle of May and after a good series, people will be talking about, ‘oh, you’re going to sign an extension?’ Or after an 0-for-4, it’s [like], ‘oh, you should have signed that extension [in spring].’ We’ll try to get everything out of the way right now while we’re still prepping and getting ready for the season, but once it’s April 7, packed house in the Bronx, it’s going to be time to focus on winning ballgames and that’s it."
Judge, who will turn 30 on April 26, is coming off a 2021 in which he hit .287 with 39 homers, 98 RBIs and a .916 OPS in 148 games. It was his first healthy season since 2017, his AL Rookie of the Year season, when he hit 52 homers, drove in 114 runs and produced a 1.049 OPS in 155 games.
Speaking Monday, general manager Brian Cashman said he had plans to talk to Judge’s reps at some point.
"When that happens, I’m not going to say or predict, but we’re on the clock, obviously, between now and his free agency," Cashman said. "And if nothing gets done prior to free agency, it doesn’t mean [he won’t be back]. We’ve signed [our own] guys back as free agents, too. We’re the only team that can talk to him now, and at some point those conversations would happen or will happen, and we’ll try to keep it as private as we can."
An extension being worked out in the spring appears unlikely – though certainly not impossible – for a variety of reasons.
Primary among them is there is a sense, from some in the organization, that there is something to be said for waiting for 2022 to play out, given Judge’s past injuries that have cost him significant time on the field. If Judge, who entered this spring healthy by all accounts, spends a stint or two on the injured list this season, he would not be entering free agency in a prime bargaining position. The other side of that is that if Judge does stay on the field all season he’s far likely than not to put up MVP-caliber numbers as that has been what’s happened in the past for one of the game’s best all-around players. That kind of season, naturally, would land him in the free agent market in an ideal spot to garner a big-money contract.
"I think as long as I’m playing baseball, I want to be wearing pinstripes," he said. "It’s been an honor and blessing to be here. To get a chance to play [with] this franchise and be surrounded by so many great players and walk in the footsteps of so many other former great players that have played this game, there’s no better place to play on this planet. I strongly believe that. I’ve been vocal about that, and I want to stay here in pinstripes. If that happens, it happens. But if it comes to it that it doesn’t, I’ll enjoy my memories here … with all my teammates. Everybody."