Aaron Judge said it was a question he had not yet been asked, but it was one he was ready for.
The question: Does Judge see this offseason as being "crucial" to whether he will be a Yankee the rest of his career?
"I guess you can say that," Judge said after the Yankees’ 6-2 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday night in the American League wild-card game at Fenway Park.
Judge, 29, coming off his best season since his AL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017, can be a free agent after 2022. The rightfielder, who made $10.18 million this year, likely will get a big increase this offseason, the last in which he is arbitration-eligible.
The Yankees’ other options are to work out a long-term extension with Judge before next season starts, wait for his contract to expire and then work out a free-agent deal or — not that any Yankees fan wants to hear this scenario — trade him.
"I want to be a Yankee for life. I want to wear these pinstripes the rest of my career and represent this great organization and bring a championship back to the city," Judge said. "But you never know what the future holds for you. That's kind of out of my hands."
Judge is coming off a year in which he led the Yankees in homers (39), RBIs (98), on-base percentage (.373), slugging percentage (.544) and OPS (.916).
Beginning Aug. 1, he had a .299/.372/.593 slash line, 18 homers and 50 RBIs in 59 games, combining with Giancarlo Stanton to barely get the Yankees into the postseason. Judge was a notable deviation from a Yankees offense that largely underperformed for a variety of reasons.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner for the most part believes in his famous father’s philosophy when it comes to doing extensions. Meaning, he doesn’t believe in them. But exceptions can be made, as they have been before.
When Judge is healthy, his production ranks him among the best in the game, and his all-around play and wild popularity among the Yankees' fan base make him a candidate to be one of those exceptions.
Working against Judge?
After he played 155 games his rookie season, a variety of injuries limited him to 112 games in 2018, 102 in ’19 and 28 in the COVID-19-shortened 60-game 2020 season. Judge stayed healthy enough to play in 148 games this season, but his 6-7, 282-pound physique and willingness to throw it around in pursuit of a ball will always make his durability a question mark.
Still, Judge far and away has the public relations hammer because of that standing among the fan base.
And with indications suggesting that Steinbrenner will bring back manager Aaron Boone — a move that would not appear to be a popular one — the announcement that the team has worked out an extension with Judge no doubt would go a long way toward mollifying angry fans.
As much as Judge loves being a Yankee, he will not hesitate to bank on himself next season if he feels low-balled in extension talks (if there are any) and see what free agency brings after the 2022 season, even under the constructs of a new collective bargaining agreement (the current one expires Dec. 1).
"It's just an incredible honor. No better place to play, no better organization to be a part of, based on its history and the staff we have, the players here, the players that come through here and getting an opportunity to go to the postseason every single year," Judge said of the importance of being a Yankee. "That’s something special.
"I've given a lot, sacrificed a lot, for this team, and they've sacrificed a lot and given me this opportunity, and I want to bring it [a championship] home here. But like I said, you never know what the future holds for you. So I just have to continue to do what I can to improve as a player and improve as a person, and we'll see what happens."