Introducing the 2023 New York Yankees without Aaron Judge

Last season was a whirlwind and ultimately disappointing one for the New York Yankees. They had historic pace in the first half, but injuries to key players like DJ LeMahieu, Luis Severino and Michael King knocked them out of the game and left them looking relatively normal on the track and in the playoffs.

There was one constant – Aaron Judge had one of the greatest offensive seasons in recent memory en route to the AL MVP award. And he had to be great to pull through with everything the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani was doing at the racquet and on the mound.

The judge’s tour de force was certainly well-timed; He’s now one of the crown jewels of the offseason free agent market. There seems to be a mutual interest between Judge and the Yankees in a very lucrative reunion, but as someone with extensive front office experience, I am aware of the need for Plans B, C, D, etc. when a club is trying to them to fill winter needs.

However, in this or any off-season, the Yankees sit in a different place, with different expectations compared to other clubs. The bar is set high, competitively and financially. Other clubs may just want to compete (or not compete), but anything but a ring is still considered a failure in Yankee country.

Is there a “Plan B” that would see a Yankee team without Aaron Judge as a legitimate World Series contender in 2023?

Some contextual factors to consider:

  • The Yankees already have over $206 million in salary (including the recent signing of free agent 1B Anthony Rizzo) on the hook, not counting any new free agent acquisitions.
  • GM Brian Cashman and Ownership, unlike some other big-spending clubs, have shown a reluctance to pay big luxury tax dollars in recent seasons.
  • The club has already committed nearly $28 million for the return of their infield’s left home side in 3B Josh Donaldson and SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
  • While other AL contenders like the Mariners, Blue Jays and Astros have shown a willingness to trade high-end prospects for “Win Now” veterans, the Yankees have stuck with athletic, major-leaning candidates like Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez, Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera.

With all of that in mind, it’s clear the club prefers it – and frankly, the likeliest outcome would be signing Judge to a mega-contract, which could potentially be brought forward, likely putting her out of the running for other meaningful free-agent acquisitions.

But what if the Dodgers or Giants blow the Yankees out of the water with, say, an 8-year 350 Mish deal? The Dodgers, for example, have an outrageous amount of money off their books in terms of recent free agents and non-bids. Plus, they also have Trevor Bauer’s huge salary up in the air. What would the Americans plan B if Judge goes west?

The first inclination would be to look at Judge’s peers at the top of the player class of the free agent position. The problem is they are all shortstops (Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson) and given the Yanks’ devotion to Volpe/Peraza/Cabrera I just can’t see the club raising hundreds of millions of guaranteed dollars push the kids aside.

One option would be to move 2B Gleyber Torres to open the position for one of the free agents or for a second youngster, but then Torres’ production would also have to be replaced (at a relatively cheap price). I could still see Torres moving on (perhaps to Seattle in exchange for a Jesse Winker-centric package), but I don’t see him as a gateway into the free agents’ shortstop sweepstakes.

Another Plan B option would be to roll the dice on one of the best starting pitchers in the free agent market. With Jameson Taillon set to leave, the Yanks have a need and Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom could be the recipe. The risk? Well, they’re old, and while the total spend would be much less, the cost per season versus Judge would be roughly similar in the short term. Carlos Rodon is another option and while he doesn’t cost as much per year as Verlander/deGrom, he costs the club more years and carries a significant risk of injury. The Japanese import Kodai Senga was also able to take a close look at it.

Well, if you get down to it, Cashman is in a pretty tough spot, at least for a Yankee GM. If Judge doesn’t take his money, he has a choice of very risky avenues that may not really pay off until Donaldson’s money is released, one or more of the young kids offering premium production for a relatively low cost — or ownership simply saying “for the Heck with it, let’s break the luxury tax threshold.” Of course, if the judge’s demands spiral out of control, these risky avenues might be the wisest. After all, Judge will be 31 when this new contract BEGINS, and the track record of 6’7”, 282, thugs dominating into their late 30s isn’t very long.

So we sit and wait, maybe for a while. The Yanks will be doing their due diligence on the free agent and trade markets (they would also like to bring back LF Andrew Benintendi if his market doesn’t go haywire) and decide what their walk-away number is on Judge.

But unlike most clubs who find themselves in the same situation, plan B isn’t simply to move to the next free agent available. Thanks to the decisions the Yankees have already made, at least one of which (the Donaldson acquisition) has already proven unwise, the club is in a precarious position that may lack the offense to be an AL contender Being in the inner circle in 2023 The judge decides to play somewhere else.