Yesterday, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal weighed in on a potential choice the Yankees could face soon:
No decision is necessary just yet. But if I were running the Yankees, I’d think twice about signing the oft-injured Aaron Judge to a monster extension. Instead, I’d consider taking that money and going hard after Francisco Lindor when he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season.
I won’t give away the details of Rosenthal’s rationale since it’s behind a paywall. The gist of his argument is that Judge’s long-term health is murky, the team is loaded with outfielders, and have a ton of salary commitments already. Rosenthal believes Lindor might be the team’s better option as it’s next splurge. Not only is Lindor great in his own right, but he’s also younger and has a healthier track record. None of Rosenthal’s points are wrong, per se. But as you might have expected us to say, why can’t the Yankees have both?
Let’s address Rosenthal’s biggest concern: Judge’s health. Frankly, I can’t deny that it worries me too. He’s on the injured list yet again after playing in just 112 and 102 of the team’s games in each of the last two seasons. He probably would have played a similar total this year if not for the pandemic because of his broken rib and collapsed lung. The only real “bad luck” injury was the wrist fracture on a hit by pitch in 2018. Otherwise, we’ve seen a couple of muscle strains and that broken rib (which to his credit, he played through at the end of 2019). I suppose the rib fracture could be bad luck too. That said, it worries me that an impact play like that in right field could hurt him again.
Depending on your WAR metric of preference, Judge was a five-win player in 2018 and 2019 in spite of missing so many games. There aren’t many outfielders who do that in a full season! If you could only pencil in Judge for 115 games annually but knew you’d get 5 WAR a pop, I think you’d be thrilled. And with guys like Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier around to fill the void, those other games aren’t exactly being filled by scrubs. The caveat: Judge needs to be healthy when it matters most in October.
Speaking of Tauchman and Frazier — yes, the Yankees have in-house options to step in for Judge after 2022, when he becomes a free agent. But as good those two look, they’re not Judge and they almost certainly never will be. Plus, Tauchman is 1.5 years older than Judge. Frazier is a little more than a year younger, though. Hell, Jasson Dominguez might be ready for the show come 2023, but that’s a ways away from now. Who knows what happens between now and then.
Finally, we get to payroll. I think we’ve argued this ad nauseam, but the Yankees aren’t in dire straits as much as some may lead you to believe. There is a lot of money coming off the books this season, even if you consider the large arbitration raises for guys like Judge, Gary Sánchez, and Gio Urshela (among others). Masahiro Tanaka ($23M), JA Happ ($17M), James Paxton ($12.5M), DJ LeMahieu ($12.5M), and Brett Gardner ($12.5M) could all depart this winter. Now, it wouldn’t be great to lose that much talent, it’s just worth noting. Per Cot’s, these are the Yankees’ salary commitments through 2024:
- 2021: $132M
- 2022: $103M
- 2023: $82M
- 2024: $78M
Almost all of that is tied to Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton (but don’t forget, the Marlins are paying a. Of course, this doesn’t account for the larger arbitration increases for guys like Judge in 2021 and 2022, but still. There’s money to play with and it doesn’t have to be Judge or Lindor. It can be both.
Keep in mind that Judge might not be as expensive as you think. The Yankees can continue to go year-to-year in arbitration through the 2022 season. While that could cost them something like $40 million over the next two seasons, that’s a pittance for Judge’s production. Further, Judge becomes a free agent in advance of his age-31 season. This isn’t a Manny Machado or Bryce Harper free agency when guys sign for $300 million in their mid-twenties.
So, I’ve spent all this time talking about Judge’s health and the Yankees’ financial status without really talking about Lindor. He’s great and the Yankees should absolutely sign him after 2021. Move Gleyber Torres back to second base, and depending on what happens with LeMahieu in free agency, the Yanks can play either DJ or Urshela at third. Don’t forget about Luke Voit at first base. That probably would be the Yankees’ best infield since 2009.
It’s exciting to think about the prospect of Judge and Lindor in pinstripes, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It would be awfully fun to have both of them around, but the focus at the moment is winning this year and next. Unless there’s a trade, Lindor can’t help just yet.