Looking at Aaron Judge’s free-agency ‘gamble,’ 61 home runs later

On Opening Day, coming off his second-best in the majors, Aaron Judge turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million Yankees contract extension.

After general manager Brian Cashman made the details of the offer public — to Judge’s displeasure — the outfielder explained the risk in his decision, given he could have a down season or get hurt.

You are reading: Looking at Aaron Judge’s free-agency ‘gamble,’ 61 home runs later

“Every day is a gamble,’’ Judge said at the time. “Stepping outside your house is a gamble. … Some people don’t leave their house if you think of all the things that could happen to them. So I just focus on what I need to do on the field, and everything else will take care of itself.”

Has it ever.

Judge went out and has had one of the best seasons in MLB history.

On Wednesday in Toronto, he made history by tying the American League and franchise records of 61 home runs in a season — which he will try to break at home starting Friday against the Orioles in front of Roger Maris Jr. and the rest of the baseball world.

Judge has almost single-handedly kept the Yankees in first place in the AL East with the rest of the lineup plagued by slumps or injuries, and is within reach of winning the American League Triple Crown. He has cemented himself as the face of the franchise.

New York Yankees Aaron Judge #99, hitting a homer in the 7th inning, his 61st of the season, tying his with Roger Maris for the American League season home run record.
With a 61-homer season and another division crown to present as part of his case, Aaron Judge should have no problem receiving a better offer than the $213.5 million contract he rejected before this season.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“I don’t mind going to free agency,’’ Judge said in April. “It is what it is, and I’ve got a job to focus on.”

When the subject of betting on himself came up after he hit No. 61, Judge smiled.

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“I never saw it as a bet on myself,’’ Judge said. “I knew, no matter what, I’d be playing this year for the New York Yankees, wearing pinstripes. We weren’t able to agree on [an extension before the season], but I changed my focus right then and there [and said,] ‘Let’s go out there and have a great season for my teammates for a long postseason run.’ I’m just out there playing baseball. I don’t look at the stats or numbers.”

He’s alone in that regard. The salary numbers any free-agent suitors will have to approach if they want to bring in Judge — or, in the Yankees’ case, keep him — figure to be staggering.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone and veteran teammates such as Gerrit Cole point to Judge’s ability to keep his mind on the team and its success as a key reason he’s been mostly unaffected by the home run chase, though he admitted it did “creep in” during the stretch of games between homer No. 60 and No. 61 as he went through his second-longest home run “drought” of the year.

The spotlight will be just as bright Friday, when the Yankees and Judge play in front of another packed house at Yankee Stadium in the first of seven games remaining in the regular season for him to pass Maris’ record set in 1961.

New York Yankees Aaron Judge #99, gestures to his mom Patty after hitting a homer in the 7th inning, his 61st of the season, tying his with Roger Maris for the American League season home run record.
Judge has said he wants to remain a Yankee for the rest of his career, but he wouldn’t be the first superstar to leave the team.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“Getting a chance to be associated with one of the Yankee greats, one of baseball’s greats … words can’t describe it,’’ Judge said. “That’s what makes the Yankees franchise so special: all the guys that came before us and paved the way. They played the game the right way. To get mentioned with those guys now, I can’t describe it.”

Some, such as Mickey Mantle, spent their entire careers with the Yankees. Others, such as Maris and Babe Ruth, ended up finishing their careers elsewhere.

Time will tell what Judge’s future holds. He’s said repeatedly he wants to remain “a Yankee for life,” but whether the Yankees meet his price tag remains to be seen.

What does Torres’ September mean for next April?

Gleyber Torres is in the midst of a remarkable turnaround.

In August, the second baseman hit .180, had just four extra-base hits, five RBIs and an OPS of .464 in 103 plate appearances.

But this month, Torres is hitting .333 with 11 extra-base hits, including six homers, 23 RBIs and an OPS of 1.002.

Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres #25 hits an RBI single during the fifth inning.
Gleyber Torres’ late-season resurgence could be crucial to the Yankees’ postseason hopes, and make him an enticing trade chip to improve their pitching staff in the offseason.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

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Scouts’ opinions are mixed as to the reason for the turnaround, but it’s clear the Yankees have an important decision ahead of them this offseason: Do they trade Torres, perhaps for a starting pitcher, because they have Oswald Peraza in the majors and top prospect Anthony Volpe playing well at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre?

Oswaldo Cabrera has exceeded expectations as a utility player with power, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa still will be in the fold.

It’s easy to forget at times that Torres is just 25 years old.

With a lineup that’s been inconsistent outside of Judge, the Yankees may have to rely on Torres more than ever in the playoffs. In 92 career postseason plate appearances, Torres has hit well, posting a .988 OPS.

Where the Martian landed

The Yankees’ minor league season ended this week, bringing top outfield prospect Jasson Dominguez’s second pro season to a close.

The 19-year-old played well for much of the season, finishing the year at Double-A Somerset.

2/22/22 - Yankees Jasson Dominguez hitting in a simulated game at the Yankee Complex in Tampa, Florida.
Jasson Dominguez improved his hitting numbers each month in the season’s second half while eventually settling in at Double-A Somerset after starting the year at low-A Tampa.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Among the most encouraging aspects of Dominguez’s season is that he hit better each month over the second half, recording a .780 OPS in July, .902 in August and 1.129 in September, which he mostly spent at Double-A.

He closed out the season with four-straight multi-hit games, going 9-for-16 with a double, three homers and nine RBIs over that span, and homered from both sides of the plate in the season finale.

He’s ticketed to play in the Arizona Fall League.

After some questions were raised about his potential following an up-and-down 2021, the Yankees liked what they saw in the latter part of the first full professional season from Dominguez, who signed for $5.1 million in 2019 out of the Dominican Republic.

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