On the brink of this season, Brian Cashman put public word to what had long been his private thoughts — telling The Athletic that had the Astros not been illegally stealing signs in 2017, his Yankees would have won that ALCS and the World Series that Houston instead captured over the Dodgers.
But if the Yankees were handed that imaginary title, then — by the same logic — wouldn’t Aaron Judge have to now be viewed as the 2017 AL MVP? After all, he finished second to an Astro in Jose Altuve. Wouldn’t that then allow Judge to weaponize against the Yankees what was weaponized, to some degree, against him in long-term negotiations prior to the season — that he was comparing himself to MVPs, notably Mike Trout, yet did not even have one of his own.
In the aftermath of Cashman’s comments, Judge dismissed the notion of a pseudo title when asked about it in April, saying, “We didn’t win so I can’t take credit for it.” So he probably is not going to use a pseudo MVP now in what is a two-prong, high-stakes weekend for him.
Altuve and the Astros are in town Thursday to begin a four-game series — the best team in the majors versus the team with the AL’s second-best record and one that has eliminated the Yanks three times since 2015.
But after the opener and before Game 2, Judge has other business. Literally business.
His arbitration is scheduled to begin at noon on Friday. Once again the Yankees are likely to make a MVP-less case, this time before three arbitrators on a teleconference call. Though I strongly sense this is a case they hope never to make.
The Yankees almost certainly want to settle before their side sits down at MLB’s offices and Judge and his reps do so at the Players Association offices. Judge has asked for $21 million, the Yankees have countered at $17 million in the last case on the dockets this year — normally cases are heard in February, but there was a lockout in place then and, thus, arbitrations had to be held uncomfortably during the season.
The midpoint is $19 million. I have spoken to multiple folks who have done cases on both sides who think that before a hearing the Yanks will take a last best shot to settle; perhaps offering $19 million-ish with an All-Star bonus (he is definitely making the AL team) and/or an MVP bonus (he is the front-runner right now) that could get him toward $20 million.
The Yankees do not arbitrate often. They have gone with players such as Chien-Ming Wang and Dellin Betances. Players, as Judge, will attend the hearing and can get upset hearing even the most sterile case because a team and MLB (which also participates) have to negatively portray a player against contemporaries to argue their side. Betances and his representatives felt the Yankees did so with extra vigor and it somewhat damaged that relationship.
And the last thing the Yankees want is to have negativity invade what is, to date, feeling like a magical season with Judge as the lead magician. Plus, they ultimately want to reignite long-term talks, which led Gerrit Cole to wonder, “How scorched earth do they go for a guy they want to keep long term?”
Still, it takes two to deal. Judge has clearly yet to be moved off of his top-of-the-market views. The Yankees offered what even many veteran agents felt was a fair seven-year, $213.5 million extension that Judge rejected before the season. The Yankees probably would have gone a bit higher. But Judge saw himself as far more valuable on and off the field.
So why would he back down now? George Springer for the 2020 season and Trea Turner this year were guaranteed $21 million in their walk years. But they were players going through the arbitration process for a fourth time, Judge is going through a third time — though his service time status of five-plus years allows him to compare himself to any player in his side’s arguments. But injury has kept him from accumulating the bulk numbers of Springer and Turner.
The largest raise for a third-year arbitration position player was the $7.1 million leap Marcus Semien made after the 2019 season. In a process that honors precedent, Judge would be asking for a much greater leap of $10.825 million from his 2021 salary. Judge, though, can score points in an area many others can’t — special qualities of leadership and public appeal. The Judge’s Chambers, for example, is unique to the Yankee slugger. Plus while the arbitrators in deciding Judge’s 2022 season are not allowed to consider his 2022 achievement, human nature would suggest a subliminal message would work to Judge’s benefit.
That Judge did not blink in rejecting more than $200 million before going out and having an unflappable stellar first half suggests he is unafraid to roll the financial dice on himself. And Judge has shown no signs that tough business will dissuade him from his quest to help lead the Yankees to a championship.
As Cole said, “He’s probably convicted to [his viewpoint] and has accepted whatever may come with it either way a long time ago.”
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