Aaron Judge may still be sitting at the craps table, but so far, his gamble on a new deal is paying off.
The Yankee outfielder had a four-hit night against the Orioles on Tuesday, including two home runs that put him at 14 for the season, extending his league lead over Houston's Yordan Alvarez.
Speaking of extending, the outfielder's hot start couldn't come at a better time. In fact, it comes at the best time for him and the 27-9 Yankees: With the outfielder turning down a contract extension offer from Yankee brass on Opening Day, the outfielder is betting big on himself to both produce and stay healthy.
That plan has worked out perfectly so far. Judge is off to the best (or second best) start of his career through 34 games, essentially matching the start to his 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign:
* — Pandemic-shortened season, missed time with a calf injury and played only 28 games
^ — Missed time at the beginning of the season with an oblique injury
Judge's very public and slightly ugly contract negotiations, which culminated in a super weird Opening Day press conference during which Brian Cashman made the Yankees' offer to Judge public — a public relations tactic if nothing else — are tabled for the time being.
Cashman recently left the door open for contract discussions in-season, though Judge insisted he would not negotiate beyond Opening Day.
Brian Cashman on Aaron Judge's contract:— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) May 11, 2022
"We're not going to talk about it now going forward. Whether that means we're not going to talk, I'm not saying that, but we're not going to talk about it (publicly). But he's been great. But that's no surprise, because he is great."
At its crux, the offer the Yankees made Judge would have paid him $30.5 million per season over seven years. While that number is gaudy and even fair when it comes to average annual value, that still sits below what other star players have signed for in recent years — star players who haven't become one of the faces of baseball, as a player on baseball's most iconic franchise, in pro sports' biggest market.
Judge does have some things working against him in contract negotiations. His "advanced" age (he turned 30 in April) would give teams pause, with MLB franchises obsessed with signing younger players. He's also dealt with injuries in years past, which can be concerning when you're a gargantuan human being, as Judge is.
That aside, though, Judge is still part of an elite group of free agents in recent years. He's amassed 27.5 fWAR through his career to this point, which is fourth in MLB since 2017 behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez. Pretty elite company.
There are no true apples-to-apples free agent comparisons in recent years, but here's how his start compares to other superstar players in recent contract years:
Manny Machado, 2018
Machado got off to a white-hot start in the 2018 season before the Orioles traded him to the Dodgers at the deadline. He didn't finish quite as strong, but still parlayed his season into a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. Machado was 27 at the time of his signing.
Bryce Harper, 2018
The debate as to how good a player Harper is rages on (side note: he's really, really good), and he opened eyes when he signed his deal with Philadelphia.
Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies prior to the 2019 season when he was 26. The deal pays just over $25 million per season, putting him on the lower end of the superstar AAV deals.
Corey Seager, 2021
Seager was one of a few elite shortstops on the market this past offseason, and even through an injured year, the 27-year-old cashed in on a 10-year, $325 million contract with the Rangers. Seager, like Judge, has had his injury issues in the past, but that didn't stop him from breaking the bank on his deal with the Rangers.
Anthony Rendon, 2019
Rendon had a monster year in 2019, helping lead the Nationals to a World Series victory. He signed a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Angels at age 30, good for $35 million a year.
Carlos Correa, 2021
Correa signed one of the more intriguing contracts of the 2021 offseason. Correa turned a bad start into a tremendous year, but still signed something of a "prove-it" deal with the Twins. Still, on AAV, Correa's deal pays him $35.1 million, with opt-outs after 2022 and 2023.
Ultimately, Judge will probably get in the ballpark of the $32-$33 million per year he was likely looking for, while the years remain murky.
Though, if his hot start continues, he'll make a case to play however long he wants.