No matter what they might tell you about revenue streams, tax thresholds, market size and competition windows, every single Major League Baseball team could afford to pay Aaron Judge what he wants on the free-agent market. It's just a matter of wanting to do it.
Do the New York Yankees want to pay? Judge broke off negotiations on Opening Day when the Yankees wouldn't come near his demands. You heard the phrase "Aaron Judge bet on himself and won" about a million times this season, as he piled on the home runs until he surpassed Roger Maris and became the American League’s all-time leader with 62 homers.
Maybe it's not realistic to consider the chances of every team in the league, because not every team will bid. But how about half of the league? Before negotiations heat up en masse and MLB free agency begins in earnest, let's take a look at the plausible landing spots for Judge and rank the chances for each team.
Possible suitors that make sense
1. New York Yankees
Most of the time, a player filing for free agency is a point of no return. The bigger names typically take full advantage of the leverage they have and follow the biggest offer — which usually comes from somewhere else. But just a year ago, Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo filed for free agency before agreeing to a two-year deal to stay. When Dan Wheeler signed a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, he didn't take the biggest cash offer. It happens. Judge hitting free agency doesn't mean he won't remain with the Yankees, but there are signs that it won't be automatic.
In April, the Yankees reportedly were willing to pay him $213 million for seven years, or $30.4 million annually on average. Judge reportedly sought a minimum of nine years at $36 million per season — $324 million total. A difference of $111 million is still a lot of money in these inflationary times, but we're talking about the New York Yankees, a franchise worth at least $5 billion and one that made $680 million alone in 2019, the most recent season before the COVID-19 pandemic and owner's lockout. Paying someone like Judge, whom they drafted in 2013 and nurtured until he produced one of the best offensive seasons in major-league history, seems like an ideal next step for the Bronx Bombers.
We shall see. The two parties seem to be on good terms, even while on the edge of parting. General manager Brian Cashman speaks glowingly about Judge, almost like a proud relative. Judge said he appreciated the Yankees negotiating an extension with him. A deal getting done to keep Judge in the pinstripes is a matter of Hal Steinbrenner being willing to pay 20% more than he'd prefer. The Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2009, a gap almost as wide as the one that preceded the Derek Jeter dynasty. But Judge is also 30 years old and missed significant parts of three seasons (2018 to 2020) because of recurring injuries. The Yankees have a chicken switch when it comes to paying the luxury tax. Judge is one big rooster, though.
2. San Francisco Giants
Judge grew up in Northern California about 100 miles east of Oracle Park, where the Giants have played since 2000. From the moment it became clear the Yankees and Judge would not agree on a contract extension before free agency, stories have appeared linking Judge's future to the Bay Area team.
The Giants fell to third place in the National League West in 2022, but a year ago, they won 107 games and beat out the Los Angeles Dodgers for the division title. Adding a bat like Judge’s would put the Giants on a trajectory to improve from 11th in runs scored into the top five or six (where they were in 2021), and it would give them a centerpiece they have lacked without Buster Posey.
With the Dodgers already way out in front and the San Diego Padres jumping them in the standings, the Giants need to make several bold moves to get back into the playoff picture. There would be no bolder move than adding a player who had the best offensive season since Barry Bonds.
3. Texas Rangers
Judge did the Rangers a solid by hitting record home run No. 62 in their ballpark. Was it merely a nonverbal way for him to open a dialogue for Texas to spend $300 million on him in free agency? The Rangers laid out $500 million last offseason on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and friends, and they have brought in Bruce Bochy (formerly of the Giants — hint, hint) to turn the team into a contender in the AL West.
Texas' offense was not bad in 2022, but the outfield isn't crowded. Eleven teams scored more runs overall, and seven teams hit more home runs overall. So there's room for upward mobility.
4. New York Mets
Money is no obstruction for the Mets, who just gave $102 million to a relief pitcher (Edwin Diaz). That’s a lot of toots on the trumpet.
In Twitter aficionado Steve Cohen, they have the wealthiest owner in the league (fifth-richest in all of American pro sports) but haven't won the World Series since the Dwight Gooden-Darryl Strawberry heyday, which was seven U.S. presidential administrations ago. Cohen and Yankees ownership are said to have a collegial relationship, but adding Judge to the Mets lineup by removing him from the Bronx would be a double whammy of New York City tabloid headline proportions.
The Mets won 101 games in 2022 but didn't win the NL East. Only four teams scored more runs than they did, but 14 teams hit more home runs. They reached the playoffs for the 10th time in franchise history but didn't make it beyond San Diego in the first round. They had the second-highest payroll in the majors, but you can't take it with you and flags fly forever. The Mets trail the Yankees by 25 championships. They'll never catch them, but with Judge, perhaps they can close the gap by one.
5. Atlanta Braves
Atlanta's ownership group is the third-richest in the league after the Mets and Blue Jays, and recent quarterly reports from Liberty Media show they continue to make serious bank. And yet, the Braves were merely No. 8 in payroll in 2022, and they had huge holes in the lineup at one outfield spot and designated hitter.
Like the other 100-plus victory teams in MLB, Atlanta didn't make the World Series in 2022, much less repeat as champions, so there's work to be done. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been quite cagey about springing surprises. Landing a player like Judge would be the biggest one yet.
6. Minnesota Twins
Simply because of how Carlos Correa's free agency played out, these guys make a lot of sense for a shorter-term offer with money in the ionosphere. They could give $40 million per season for five years, though it's hard to believe Judge would be interested in any deal with opt-outs every six months. He was a free agent once, and he probably doesn't want to go through it again next season and the one after.
If the Pohlads lose the opt-outs, Judge might opt into Target Field.
7. Chicago Cubs
They're making a lot of noise like they're going to be spending a lot of money this offseason. Maybe they'll do it how Texas did it a year ago. They've allocated about $100 million for 2023 after spending about $166 million this past season, and, for whatever reason, the Ricketts family is itching to finally spend bigly.
So are the Cubs close to contending? It's foggy to envision it with the roster they have, but they were 33-28 from August to the end of the season. Judge obviously would bring them closer to the Milwaukee Brewers, who might be shedding payroll, but he would have to be part of a huge free-agent package for the Cubs to have realistic NL Central visions.
8. Toronto Blue Jays
As they've improved their competitiveness, the Jays have dispensed with the notion that free agents won’t play home games in Canada. Heck yeah they well, as long as they get paid and Tornoto’s teams have a shot to contend. The Blue Jays could win the AL East with the right moves — one of which would be hijacking Judge from the Yankees outfield and putting him in theirs.
The Jays finished fourth in runs scored and seventh in home runs, so there’s not a huge need to add a big run producer. However, making a push to become one of the elite offenses is a good way to become a top World Series contender, rather than a team that just makes the playoffs.
Toronto is a big-market team, and its ownership group reportedly is the second richest in the league. It wouldn't quite be a Reverse Gretzky, but adding Judge from the Damn Yankees would be one of the largest international coups in sports history.
9. Los Angeles Dodgers
The winningest team in MLB led the league in scoring, and only four teams hit more home runs. Yet the Dodgers still had difficulty generating offense in the postseason. And remember: The Mets outspent them on payroll. When you don't spend as much as you can and you don't come away with the hardware, it makes for a vexing offseason mood.
The best way to perk things up is adding the best hitter MLB has seen in a generation.
Mookie Betts is already in right field, which is Judge's ideal spot, but let's just say they can work it out however they like. And it's not like left field is spoken for, in particular. The Dodgers possibly could lose Trea Turner in free agency, and Justin Turner might not return at third base/DH. So there could be openings in the lineup. Could the Dodgers win 120 games in a season by adding Aaron Judge?
10. San Diego Padres
If the Dodgers are in the Aaron Judge derby (and why wouldn't they be?), then the Padres are going to be in it, potential luxury tax violations be darned. The Friars lost out to L.A. when Max Scherzer was in the trade market but won the Juan Soto sweepstakes by being the top bidder, as the Dodgers watched in semi-discomfort.
Imagine a lineup with Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis and Judge? All dressed in sand and brown! It sounds out of this world and, like aliens, might not be realistic. But just imagine it. As a team, the Padres reached MLB's final four this past season. They're close. As a town, San Diego is a short jet flight to Judge's ancestral home in Northern California. It's close. Is it a match?
11. Cleveland Guardians
Judge is just what they need to reach the next level. It’s almost too perfect.
The Guardians won 92 games to finish 11 games ahead in the AL Central, and they won their wild-card series before taking the Yankees to a decisive fifth game in the AL Division Series. And Cleveland did this despite spending less on payroll than everyone in the entire league except for the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s.
The Guardians didn't get close to the final four by how they swung the bat. They finished tied for 15th in runs scored, and only the Detroit Tigers hit fewer home runs. Cleveland needs to add thunder somewhere in multiple places, and it has potential openings in the outfield and at DH, first base, catcher and possibly shortstop.
Of course, it's a matter of being willing to spend. It's true that the Guardians have one of the smallest TV markets in the league, and the franchise value is near the bottom as well. However, the Dolan family ownership group is one of the seven wealthiest in MLB. Cleveland hasn't been a big spender in about 20 years — but it has happened. What a way to get back in the big-player game.
12. Baltimore Orioles
These guys make the Guardians look like Daddy Warbucks. Baltimore's payroll reached $64 million in 2022. Only the Athletics spent less. But the Orioles were a playoff contender of sorts, staying in the AL wild-card race until a couple of weeks remained in the season. And this was after they traded one of their better hitters (Trey Mancini) and their closer (Jorge López) at the deadline.
Baltimore doesn’t figure to make an about-face and spend big on any free agents, especially with the family of owner Peter Angelos fighting over the future of the franchise. But if general manager Mike Elias has the keys, the passwords, the codes and the checkbook, he could perhaps present Judge with a three-year offer for $150 million and set the league on its backside. This is really unlikely because the Orioles haven't spent in the top 10 since 2000.
If they put all that cash in a CD instead, it's probably still pretty safe! Or maybe they just put it in a safe.
13. Philadelphia Phillies
Kind of an East Coast Padres; they're teetering on going over the luxury tax threshold, but they're also teetering on being good enough to win the World Series.
What did they lack against the Houston Astros? More offense. What is Aaron Judge? The most offense.
An outfield of Nick Castellanos, Judge and a surgically repaired Bryce Harper (with Kyle Schwarber at DH) would be too funny to entertain. But it would be entertaining, in true Phillies fashion.
14. St. Louis Cardinals
With Nolan Arenado opting in for the rest of his big contract, it probably takes the Cardinals out of the Judge sweepstakes. But they could use another slugger to go beyond their limitations.
Tied for fifth in runs scored and ninth in home runs, St. Louis has a bigger need for someone on the starting pitching side, but there would be something symmetrical about Judge's career following the arc of Roger Maris, who went from New York to St. Louis after setting the AL single-season record for home runs. Plus, we'd get to hear more from Roger Maris Jr.
15. Tampa Bay Rays
Like the Guardians, they are a contender that has a huge need for a slugger. Also like the Guardians, their ownership has seldom shown an inclination to spend big money on a player, much less the biggest money on the biggest player.
One of these days, the Rays are going to shock the world and pay through the nose for somebody huge. Could it be Judge's nose?
Teams who should pursue Judge too
Here are three more clubs that probably won't sign Judge but should.
1. Los Angeles Angels
They should be interested in adding Judge to go with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, if for no reason than to keep the bottom of the AL West from overtaking them. But after local opportunities for a new ballpark dried up in a political scandal, ownership is stuck construing ways to sell the team and probably doesn't think adding an expenditure like Judge would look appetizing to the new bosses.
2. Chicago White Sox
They need a right fielder more than any other contending-ish team, but the White Sox have never paid a player $100 million, much less the $200 million to $350 million it likely will take to get Judge. Fine. No World Series for you again.
3. Houston Astros
Is there such a thing as too much irony? Judge blamed leadoff man José Altuve for unfairly taking the 2017 AL MVP from him when the Astros were caught using surveillance and trash equipment to steal signs. And he didn't much like the Yankees losing to Houston in the ACLS in 2019 when more cheating accusations hounded the Astros. But you want to talk about bygones? "Here's $300 million in bygones, Aaron."