Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees celebrates his...

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees celebrates his first inning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Aaron Judge and the Yankees are closing in on an arbitration hearing both sides have said since the offseason they’d like to avoid.

But all indications remain that the parties will have that hearing Friday – via Zoom – unless a settlement is reached before (a possibility that can’t be completely ruled out -- think of the case in 2019 with Luis Severino when, minutes before the hearing was scheduled to start in a St. Petersburg hotel room, he agreed to a four-year, $40-million extension).

“No. focused on trying to win games,” Judge said before Tuesday night’s game against the Rays at Tropicana Field, asked if the impending hearing has been on his mind at all. “We’re the best team in the league. That’s what’s been on my mind.”

Has it been hard to focus?

“Not really. Being in here with these guys and what we’ve been doing the past couple months has made it pretty easy to focus on playing baseball,” said Judge, who had not discussed his contract situation since Opening Day when the Yankees announced he and his representation had turned down a $230-million extension offer, a public announcement, it should be pointed out, that privately didn’t go over well with the outfielder. “I could get caught up in contract stuff or arbitration stuff, but there’s no need. That’s what I have agents for.”

In the offseason, the Yankees filed at $17 million and Judge, who made $10.175 million last season, filed at $21 million.

It is also important to point out that the three arbitrators hearing the case are not, per the rules of the process, to consider this season’s statistics in reaching their decision.

Judge, of course, is a leading AL MVP candidate this season, hitting .301 with 25 homers – which leads all of baseball – 50 RBIs and a 1.027 OPS, which ranks him fourth in MLB.

Arbitration hearings by their nature are contentious affairs, the reason teams try to avoid them if they can as hard feelings can develop.

That was the case the last time a Yankee squared off against team hierarchy in a hearing. It was 2017 when reliever Dellin Betances filed at $5 million and the Yankees countered at $3 million.

Judge, then a rookie, was in the early stages of a spring training position battle with Aaron Hicks for the starting job in right so his attention was elsewhere. Still, the ugliness of what took place during the hearing spilled into the clubhouse, especially after the Yankees prevailed in the hearing and team president Randy Levine took to a conference call to more or less spike the football in the face of Betances’ agent. Which was, to Betances and the players in the clubhouse, a distinction without a difference.

“He just didn’t like how the process went,” Judge said of Betances. “He gave a lot to this organization, the numbers he put up for quite a few years, even though he wasn’t a closer, he did a lot of special things and maybe thought he should get reciprocated for that, but it didn’t happen.”

Judge said he hasn’t derived any extra motivation from his contract situation.

“Not really motivated by that kind of stuff. I’m more motivated by the type of team we’ve got and especially the talent we have here and the opportunity we have ahead of us,” Judge said. “I’m just going to keep focusing on that and that makes it pretty easy for me to block the other stuff, the business side of it, out.”

Though Judge said in the spring he hoped a hearing could be avoided, it also isn’t something the 30-year-old has been dreading.

“I’ve had people in my agency, past players that played that went through the process said they hated it,” Judge said. “And then other people that went through it said, ‘it was actually kind of good to hear about me.’ So I’m looking forward to it. I don’t have much to say about it until it’s all said and done.”

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