“He’s not going to sign with a loser like the Cubs.”

“He’s not going to sign with a loser like the Cubs.”

New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is scheduled to hit free agency for the first time after this season, and he couldn’t have put together a better year by walk. So far, he’s hitting .300/.378/.644/184 wRC+, and he’s on pace to surpass his own season-high 8.8 WAR, set in 2017. When healthy, he’s been an absolute beast in the plate, and more than capable defensively in the outfield. All in all, Judge is one of the best players in baseball. Good time to go to market.

Before the season, the Yankees reportedly offered Judge an eight-year, $230 million contract, including 2022, for what was essentially seven years and $213 million for his “free agent” years. You can assume he’ll be looking to top that in free agency, and probably by a hefty amount.

The question with Judge is going to be health (he topped 115 games just twice in his career) combined with his age (31 next season). With his extreme size, he’s not necessarily a profile he’d expect to age very well, or at least age without wasting too much time. He’ll get the monster deal from him, but the signing team will have to know that the best years are likely to come in the first two or three, and there may be a lot of “dead money” in the second half of the deal. That’s not a lock, of course! Judge is a heavy hitter (and athlete) who could defy aging curves and health history. It is much more likely that he is the other way around.

Which is a precursory way of saying (1) I’m FASCINATED to pursue his free agency, because the market for his services and the types of contract offers he receives could be wild and varied; and (2) unless the Cubs think they can put in a big effort in 2023/24 (sigh), Judge won’t be a target, and certainly not ahead of younger shortstops. It’s not to say I won’t follow things closely and argue when there are Cubs-related rumors, but I’d be surprised if he’s a prime target.

The Cubs are listed as one of seven possible teams for Judge in this ESPN article, which makes sense in the abstract because they’re a big market team (who should, in theory, spend a lot more money in the years to come (again, sigh)).

The reasons why the Cubs are offered as a good option: Judge is a transformative bat for a team in need, Judge can be a focal point and a star for the team in the city of Chicago, and the Cubs have a bat very limited long term. commitments. All fair and square, though I’d like to point out the things I said earlier that make me doubt the Cubs would launch on the type of contract he’s going to get.

However, the part of the article I want to mention is kind of funny:

The Cubs are a big-market team with a small-market payroll, and they have a lot of financial flexibility, if they want to use it.

But would Judge want the Cubs?

“He wants to win. He’s not going to sign a loser like the Cubs are doing right now,” a rival evaluator said. “I don’t see him signing up for rebuilding.”

That’s a humorously expressed point, a bit poignantly correct. If the money were equal, it’s pretty hard to see Judge picking these Cubs over a club that’s obviously set up to compete right out of the box *AND* has a better track record of consistent competition during the years he signed up.

Money will do the talking, and the Cubs/Chicago offer a lot of really great soft factors. But we can’t expect a player of Judge’s stature to sign up for a truly uncertain competitive future unless the money surprises him (see, for example, the Rangers and Corey Seager/Marcus Semien). That’s when it becomes really moot whether that would be a good move by the Cubs in the first place.

So take this as yet another reason why a large market team that goes through “build, tear down, deep rebuild” cycles can be harmful in peripheral ways.

Maybe the Cubs can get around him when it comes time to convince top free agents, Judge or not, to sign a multiyear deal. They did get Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki to sign on, after all. But that was before 2022 collapsed, before the messages started to shift toward what sounds like a longer-term rebuild, and before many questions about several key players for 2023 had been answered in the negative or are yet to be determined. .

Once again, I want to be clear: the right contract offer it is the main factor in the free agency of any player. But sometimes the situation is that a couple of clubs are willing to go more or less to the same range, so the player has to decide on many other factors. Is it usually the main one of those? “I hope I’m making a living from this deal?”

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