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Mudville: May 25, 2024 6:47 am PDT

Judgment Day

General managers don’t just blurt out offers they make to franchise players in a press conference unless there is something else going on… like trying to turn public opinion in their direction.

It’s a bold strategy, I will say.

Aaron Judge may still sign with the Yankees at some point, but Judge would be crazy now not to slide head first into free agency and see what is out there for him = and certainly bad feelings have been stirred up by that Cashman move.

Judge said he was “disappointed’’ the Yankees made their offer public.

That was a clear “See, we tried!” move by the Yankees.

And that is how Opening Day became Closing Day on the Yankees negotiations with the soon to be free agent and the face of the Yankees franchise.

Whenever I would see Judge for the first time year after year in the Yankees clubhouse in spring training or early in the season, I would make a joke, “Hey, have the Yankees spoken to you yet about a long term contract?’’

This after so many young players were given long-term deals, players like Ronald Acuna Jr. from the Braves.

Judge would always give me that sly smile of his which spoke volumes.

The Yankees just don’t do those things.

For the most part they will take a young player and ride it through the arbitration years and that is exactly what they did with Aaron Judge, a player the $6 billion franchise has made a lot of money off of these last four years.

“How to piss off the nicest kid on your team who has done nothing but represent your club in a really good way.’’

Judge turned down the Yankees deadline offer of $213.5 million for the seven-year extension, an average $30.5 million over the next seven seasons, and by getting those numbers out there, the Yankees created a “How could he turn that down!” reaction from a lot of fans, whose blood pressure rises every time they have to fill up at the pump or go food shopping these days.

Sure, that is a crazy amount of cash and it’s hard to grasp but I completely understand why Judge did what he did and why he wants to test the free agent waters after putting in the time to get to this point in his career.

This is his Mike Trout time. He has earned this right. Yankee fans will get the best of Judge this season.

First of all, even if he does sign back with the Yankees, he is not going to get less than what has been offered already.

Aaron Judge is betting on himself and he’s also betting on the fact that the Yankees have left him at the contract altar all these years when they had the hammer.

If the Yankees had played their cards right earlier in his career, they could have actually saved money on Judge for a long-term deal, but Hal Steinbrenner and Cashman did not go there.

Well, Aaron Judge has the hammer now and the baseball world is waiting.

Some teams who actually care about winning would want a model citizen, big-time slugger who can also hit the ball to all fields for average, a real team leader even if it does cost them Trout money.

Judge also plays his position, right field, to perfection, and don’t forget he could always play first base. What infielder would not want to throw to that large target. And then again, the NL is using the DH now, so Judge can handle that as well down the line. In Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Red Sox, he played centerfield at Yankee Stadium.

Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees poses for a photo during the New York Yankees Photo Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Billy Eppler, who grew up in the Yankees organization, would not mind asking Big Cash Cohen to add Judge to the Mets lineup.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, for goodwill alone, an eight-year deal would have made sense for the Yankees even though Judge will soon turn 30. After all they have those Judge’s Chambers’ seats to sell, and all those Judge 99 jerseys and a lot of streaming games to sell as well – and Aaron Judge puts fans in the seats and eyes on the streaming services.

It is not like the Yankees don’t have big contracts for others.

All Judge has to do is look to the pitcher’s mound and see that Gerrit Cole, who spit the bit in the wild card game last year at Fenway Park and was completely unnerved on Opening Day against the Red Sox because pre-game ceremonies featuring Billy Crystal ran four minutes long, was given $324 million by the Yankees in a nine-year deal. More on Gerrit Cole later in The Story.

Or he could look at designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton, who is 32, and will get $32 million in each of the next three years and then $29 and $25 million the following two years with the Marlins picking up $10 million in each of those two final seasons. Stanton’s two-run home run was the difference Saturday. Stanton has hit seven home runs against the Red Sox over the last eight games. Wake up, Nerds.

Anthony Rizzo also had a two-run blast, his second in two days, it’s nice to see that the Yankees have figured out that lefties hit well in Yankee Stadium.

Or Judge could look over at third base and see that 36-year-old Josh Donaldson is getting $50 million over the next two years from the Yankees.

Stanton, Cole and Donaldson all came from other organizations.

Judge, of course, is homegrown, the most popular Yankee since Derek Jeter, and is in the prime of his career. He also didn’t get the full-time call up to the majors from the Yankees until he was 25 in 2017. He could be further along in this free agency process if the Yankees had called him up earlier.

Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the New York Yankees poses for a photo during the New York Yankees Photo Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Just think how boring this Yankee team would have been the last few years without Judge. And it was Judge who helped hold together a clubhouse that featured a catcher in Gary Sanchez, who could not catch.

No matter what the Yankees spend on Judge a lot of that money is coming immediately back to them in other ways. If Judge had injury problems in the near future that would be an issue, but he seems to have found the formula for staying on the field. It certainly helped when he stopped running into walls or diving for fly balls against the Orioles in September games, something else we had long conversations about through the years.

You have to pick your spots.

Don’t just listen to me, listen to what this well-respected major league evaluator from another club told BallNine about Judge and what went down on Opening Day.

“To me, the Yankees didn’t realize how pissed off he is,’’ he said of Judge. “First of all, their arbitration offer was less than what Juan Soto got and the fact they haven’t addressed his extension prior to them leaving Florida and trying to shove it it down his throat and then Cashman coming out and giving the details, he’s trying to embarrass Judge.

“How to piss off the nicest kid on your team who has done nothing but represent your club in a really good way.’’

Judge never got the offer other young stars got.

“And don’t forget,’’ the evaluator offered, “they’re the Yankees, they are not the Rays, they are not the Pirates, they are not the Orioles, they are the bleeping New York Yankees. If I’m going to lay out money I would rather lay it out to him than Carlos Correa, Javy Baez or Trevor Story.’’

When it comes to free agency you never know what team is suddenly going to say, “Let’s go for it.’’ For example, the Rangers put out $325 million for shortstop Corey Seager.

A future natural fit for Judge would be a team like the Giants. Judge is from Northern California. The Judge’s Chambers could always move to another ballpark. If that happens the Yankees will have only themselves to blame.

As for Gerrit Cole, he really needs to focus on his job. I spoke to several baseball insiders after Cole blew up because pregame ceremonies ran four minutes long on Opening Day and they agree Cole needs to take care of his own business, in other words, grow up.

Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees poses for a photo during the New York Yankees Photo Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday, March 15, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

One had pitched in Opening Days before and said you have to anticipate such a delay on Opening Day. “He’s got really thin skin, it seems,’’ the scout said. “Remember when he didn’t pitch in Game 7 with Houston in the World Series, he was upset.’’

That was in the Nationals 6-2 win to win the World Series and afterwards, Cole, who became a free agent after the game, said, “I’m not an employee of the team …’’

“Life has road bumps,’’ the scout said, “you got to roll with the punches and you have to figure things out. It’s Opening Day, there is a lot of pomp and circumstance. Things might run a little over but you can’t let that take you out of your game because you had to wait a little bit longer.’’

The scout then added something I did not think about at the time.

“There is nothing wrong with going to your manager and having him ask the umpire, because the ceremonies ran over, can my pitcher get a couple extra warmup pitches coming off a shortened spring training,’’ he said.

That is a great point and Aaron Boone might have been able to calm Cole down if such a request were made and granted.

“I would think that request would be granted, ‘Hey we went five minutes over can my starter get some extra pitches.’ That’s not such an unreasonable request,’’ the scout said.

A four-pitch walk, a home run, a bullet single off the wall and a double (a triple shy of the cycle) Cole was finally warmed up. The Yankees were fortunate that the Red Sox did not move the runner to third, Alex Verdugo grounded to the pitcher, Trevor Story fouled out and Bobby Dalbec struck out. Cole did not allow the Red Sox to get the fourth run of the inning and then made it through four innings. Seven relievers later, and four Fake Runners in Rob Manfred’s Frankenstein game, the Yankees came away with a 6-5, 11-inning victory to salvage Opening Day.

New York Yankees' new infielder Anthony Rizzo speaks to the media at a press conference during spring training camp at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, on March 17, 2022. (Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images)

It was a strange day all around because Alex Cora, who usually makes all the right moves against the Yankees, appeared to go to Garrett Whitlock a bit early in the sixth and that cost him later when he allowed Whitlock to face DJ LeMahieu with one out in the eighth. Whitlock got ahead on breaking balls with LeMahieu, having two terrible swings but then tried to sneak a high fastball past LeMahieu who hit a game-tying home run.

Who knows, the Red Sox have beefed up their analytics department quite a bit under Chaim Bloom and maybe the Nerds designed the moves and the pitching sequence?

LeMahieu, like Judge, has perfected the opposite field home run vs the fastball.

In Houston, Cole had Justin Verlander running the pitchers so that was a help to him. In Pittsburgh, according to those on the scene, AJ Burnett helped him along. Cole is the veteran guy now and has to figure it out. He cannot continue to blow up in big situations and perhaps he learned from that experience.

The Yankees have a strong bullpen and an easy early schedule. They got six innings of no-hit ball from six relievers Saturday as they have turned into the Rays.

Good bullpen, good early schedule. That is a good combo.

Beginning mid-April they play 12 straight games against the Orioles (3), Tigers (3), Indians (3) and Royals (3). They play the Orioles 10 times by May 25, and that is a gift from Manfred. So the Yankees have time to get things right and basically continue spring training through May. They have two West Coast trips in August so that is when the bill is due, but with the A’s now being a AAA team, it should not be like West Coast trips in the past.

There is one stretch where the Yankees are in Seattle for three games and then fly to Boston for three games before returning home to face the Rays, Blue Jays and then the Mets. That will be interesting.

Perhaps in one of those starts at home, the Yankees can invite Billy Crystal back to throw out the first pitch before one of the games Cole is on the mound.

At the least, it will make for a nice photo op.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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