Will Aaron Judge re-sign with Yankees in free agency?

NEW YORK — It came back to Aaron Judge, a situation the Yankees have been sending into all summer. Judging by the well-known, imposing stance that broke an American League record of 62 regular-season home runs, the team’s most recognizable slugger was the team’s last hope of delaying winter for one more night.

But the clock had struck midnight in New York, and soon for the Yankees of 2022. Judge’s mighty cut produced just a routine tapper back to pitcher Ryan Pressly, who jogged the ball to first base with an underhand somersault, the final of the Astros’ 6-5 victory over the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

Judge jogged down the baseline, put his right foot on first base, then looked over his left shoulder as the Astros began celebrating on the field—his field. Though it wasn’t technically anymore: For the first time in his professional career, Judge will be untethered and test the waters of free choice, and there’s a chance it could mark his last at bat in a Yankees uniform.

“Having the opportunity to wear the pinstripes and play on right field at Yankee Stadium is an incredible honor,” Judge said. “I have never taken it for granted at any point. I always checked myself before the game if I said a little prayer, I looked around the stadium a bit and pinched myself. There are very few individuals who get the chance to run on that field and play for the fans.”

It was, as CEO Brian Cashman said, “the best bet of all time”. Judge turned down a $213.5 million seven-year extension from the Yankees on Opening Day, responding with an all-ages season. In 157 games, Judge batted .311/.425,686 to lead the Majors in home runs, runs (133), RBI’s (131), slugging percentage, on-base percentage, OPS+ (211) and total bases (391).

His pursuit to break Roger Maris’ 61-year-old single-season AL record for home runs captivated the sports world, culminating in a 62nd home run in the first game of a doubleheader on October 4 in Texas.

Still, the postseason wasn’t smooth sailing for Judge, perhaps gassed by the grueling target hunt, though he’d never admit it. In nine postseason games, Judge hit .139 (5-for-36) with two homeruns and three RBI’s, then walked hitless in the ALCS final.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Judge’s 2022 season has been “incredible”, adding that Judge is “someone I’ve become very close to and admire and respect and hopefully we’ll see him in pinstripes for a long time to come. I don’t even want to think about alternative right now.”

It’s not immediately clear what Judge will look for in free agency, although it is noteworthy that Gerrit Cole is currently the club’s highest paid player at $36 million a year; Judge will certainly look north of that (Mike Trout is the highest paid position player in terms of average annual value of $35.5 million), and Judge could potentially surpass Max Scherzer’s AAV record of $43.3 million.

“Whatever he gets will be astronomical and he deserves it,” said Anthony Rizzo. “He bet on himself on the biggest podium, in the biggest market and did it with ease. He should be rewarded as the highest paid player in the game. He is the new gold standard in my opinion.”

Judge said he plans to take some time to discuss his pending free desk with his agent, Page Odle, and his family. Judge said he has spoken with Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole about their respective contract activities.

“I haven’t even thought about the next step,” Judge said. “We have time to find out. I’ve never been to this place.”

“It was a special time,” the judge said. “I’m just kicking myself for not taking that championship home with me.”

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