And now Aaron Judge’s Yankees career might be over.
When the Yankees lost to the Astros, 6-5, in Game 4 of the ALCS on Sunday night, completing Houston’s sweep, their season ended and Judge’s Bronx tenure potentially went along with it.
Fittingly, in a year marked by his historic home run chase, his final on-field moment before reaching free agency also was the final moment of the game. He grounded out to closer Ryan Pressly for the final out. The Astros celebrated on the infield behind him as Judge returned to the home dugout.
In the immediate aftermath, Judge had little interest in discussing what comes next, saying he had thought about becoming a free agent “not at all” and that the possibility of this being his last home game for the Yankees had “not at all” crossed his mind. Instead, he was stuck with losing the last game of another year that didn’t end with a World Series title, rendering him “indifferent,” he said, toward the rest.
But he did allow himself to get romantic in reflecting on his career to date.
“Getting the chance to wear the pinstripes and play rightfield at Yankee Stadium, it’s an incredible honor that I definitely didn’t take for granted at any point,” Judge said. “I always checked myself pregame: When I say a little prayer, I look around the Stadium and pinch myself. There’s very few individuals who get a chance to run out on that field and do that and play in front of the fans that support us throughout this, throughout my whole six years here. It was a special time.”
As he heads to the open market, Judge has positioned himself as the biggest name available, particularly among outfielders. He declined the Yankees’ seven-year extension offer worth $213.5 million right before the season started, then had the best year of his life, including hitting 62 home runs — the most ever in the American League and the most ever by a player whose reputation is not stained by performance-enhancing drugs.
Judge almost certainly will be named AL MVP when the winners of the major awards are announced next month.
Near his locker in the Yankees’ clubhouse, Judge had a pair of teammates who could serve as sounding boards, having been through versions of this process. Giancarlo Stanton signed a 13-year, $325 million deal with the Marlins in 2014. Gerrit Cole came to the Yankees on a nine-year, $324 million pact before the 2020 season.
Judge said he has spoken with Stanton and will speak with Cole about their respective situations, but they were different in notable ways. Stanton wasn’t a free agent; he signed an extension. And Cole “kind of had his mind set on where he wanted to be,” Judge said.
Does he not similarly have his mind made up, then? “I’ve never been a free agent,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Officially, Judge will become a free agent the day after the World Series ends. He can’t sign with another team until four days later. So the Yankees will have that exclusive negotiating window, but agreements rarely are reached during that period and surely won’t be in the case of Judge, who said on Opening Day that after the season “I’ll talk to 30 teams.”
Judge also said then that he wanted to be “a Yankee for life.” And that still is the case . . . sort of.
“Yeah, I’ve been clear about that since I first wore the pinstripes,” he said. “But we couldn’t get something done before spring training. I’m a free agent. We’ll see what happens.”