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The Look Ahead: He’s Staying? We’ll Be The Judge Of That

The Red Sox meet up for four in The Bronx in a series that doesn’t have too much on the line. But let’s talk about a hole in the Red Sox outfield and one, very big hitter who could fill it.

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Unless you’ve been under the proverbial rock all summer, you are aware that Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge is putting the finishing touches on what some baseball fans would call a pretty good season. Between Albert Pujols chasing 700 career home runs, and Judge absolutely mashing, it’s been an exciting time. And, forgive me, but I’m excited every time I see Judge get an at-bat, because, at 60 home runs on the season, every single trip to the plate is an opportunity to change history. The fact that teams are even still pitching to him is kind of a surprise, seeing as there have been parts of 2022 where he’s hit better than the rest of the Yankees’ lineup combined.

The pinstripes are an iconic symbol, whether we like it or not. Every player that dons the uniform, much like the Red Sox uniform, is part of a secret club (albeit, one that you can’t sport a beard in, but still). For 61 years, the Yankees (and AL) record for single-season home runs has belonged to Roger Maris, a record that seemed to be insurmountable until some recent hitters have come close. For Judge to be knocking on that door — and for us to get to witness it — is a special thing, even as Red Sox fans. And, since I can feel my readers wanting to revoke my lifelong Red Sox fan card for the last paragraph, I’m going to state now that I hope, however unlikely this is, that he goes on a massive cold streak at least until Monday so the record books will not say he hit 61 - or dare I say, 62 - against our team.

But wait! There looms another question. Aaron Judge, at 30 years old, is negotiating a new contract this winter after working a 19 million dollar payday this season. He’s eclipsed five years of major league service time very recently, and although he’s always been clutch for the blue and white, it’s certainly a perfect storm that he plays his very best when it’s time to really cash out.

So, as much fun as it’s been to revel in the magical season Mr. Judge is having and pontificate upon how many home runs he’ll hit and whether he’ll win the first triple crown in a decade (he seems to have 2 of the 3 locked up, but if Xander has anything to say about it, he may fall just short of the batting title), it’s almost as much fun to guess where he’ll play in 2023 and beyond. And, given recent comments he made about Fenway, comments truly out of character for a Yankees star to make about their hated rival, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility to imagine that the man guarding the Pesky Pole will be 6’7” and some (okay… several) Fenway Franks away from 300 pounds. And hey, wouldn’t it be perfect to watch the Bronx Bombers fumble the security of their best player in a decade in the same manner in which they fumbled the biggest early division lead in memory?

MLB: American League at National League Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, okay, I hear your frantic keystrokes ready to call me an unrealistic dreamer. So I want to make something clear: I wholeheartedly believe Aaron Judge will be a New York Yankee for several years to come, and the biggest victories the Red Sox will have this winter will be locking Devers and maybe Bogaerts up. To the the team with the third-highest payroll in the league (and which is used to having the highest), it’s not a matter of if the Yankees will lock up their most exhilarating player, it’s how much money they’ll actually pay. And whatever that number may end up being, it’s certainly a stretch to imagine any scenario in which the notoriously stingy Chaim Bloom and John Henry cough that up for a player on the wrong side of 30, even if he hits six hundred home runs. There’s long been a joke that Bloom would sign a praying mantis if he came from Tampa, had a Tommy John surgery under his belt, and maintained an ERA over 5, but in all seriousness, it seems that giving away future assets for established players is not this front office’s current modus operandi. And those assets, as seen with Kyle From Waltham, who also may or may not be having a pretty decent season (just 40 home runs, no big deal) include cash and bargaining power.

But what if I told you that, hidden in plain sight, is some bargaining power those of us that want the team to spend money have? And what if it was bargaining power with the fans? NESN is owned by Fenway Sports Group. The channel is also offering a subscription service for 30 dollars a month (you can spit your coffee out in surprise like that meme now). The team is surely going to finish under .500 this season. That does not exactly have people jumping for their credit cards, nor will putting essentially the same team (or worse) on the field next year. You can offer all the ticket packages for the annual plans you want. The team really can’t stay stagnant, and while it’s most likely that Bloom, Henry, and company will sign some less notable names, it’s fun to dream.

And the dream doesn’t completely lack basis in roster reality, either. From a practical standpoint, the team signing Kiké Hernández may have put to rest any radical moves in the outfield, especially with Tommy Pham having a mutual option, Alex Verdugo being a lock for next year, Christian Arroyo being a fun utility plug-and-play, and maybe even Jarren Duran or Franchy Cordero keeping some sort of utility roles. But that’s still an outfield that lacks punch in a league that kind of requires it to contend. While Judge’s historic season will likely command a record-breaking contract, there’s at least some doubt that he sees such a number, simply because of his age. And if there’s anyone who is known to jump on an undervalued asset, it’s Chaim Bloom.

You may have noticed that I refrained from throwing out potential numbers, because I feel as though that’s exactly how each team is going to approach a player coming off the best offensive season in memory. But when it comes down to brass tax, regardless of how Judge says us Sox fans are some of the best fans in baseball, and regardless of how much he says he’ll talk during the offseason, and regardless of how entirely shocking it is to hear the Yankees’ leader utter those words (because just imagine, for a second, someone like Mariano Rivera, Don Mattingly, or Derek Jeter saying what Judge said, especially in the digital age where people like in media, or myself, or maybe any of you will take that and run with it), it will really, obviously, be about who’s digging into their pockets deep enough to secure a guy who’s truly making the game interesting.

As far as this series goes, the same questions for the rest of the season’s roster remain, as does the general demeanor about the team. The Red Sox have been absolutely abysmal against the AL East this year, and in Yankees Stadium, playing short, it’s not likely this changes, as fun as it would be to contribute to the Yankees collapse. But it can be fun to dream about a world where Boston sweeps, which allows Toronto to catch up, gives the Yanks a more arduous path to the World Series, and leads to them blowing it for yet another year, and then blowing it even more by not simply writing that blank check allowing their history-making outfielder to walk. And he’ll walk all the way to Fenway Park, where somehow a frugal management group will be waiting with open arms with a number with a lot of commas. Suddenly, the player conjuring Red Sox fans boos for half a decade will join Rafael and Xander for the next half-decade, and he’ll be a visitor in the Bronx for years to come. Hey, it almost certainly won’t happen. In fact, you have a better chance of standing in a Bronx grocery store in a Wally costume without getting heckled. But it’s not a crime to dream, right? You be the judge.

Thursday 9/22 @ 7:15 PM: Michael Wacha vs. Jameson Taillon

Friday 9/23 @ 7:05 PM: Rich Hill vs. Gerrit Cole

Saturday 9/24 @ 1:35 PM: Nick Pivetta vs. Domingo German

Sunday 9/25 @ 7:08 PM: Brayan Bello vs. Nestor Cortes