As New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner spoke this week about his recent conversations with Aaron Judge, his words were confident, built on the power of his team’s staggering wealth. “He means a lot to this organization,” he told the YES Network, “and I’ve made it clear to him we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”
There is an assumption among many executives with other organizations that in the end, the Yankees will retain their best player and biggest star.
But if the New York Mets are smart, they should make a major play for Judge, because no other player presents more perfect solutions for some of the challenges they face in reshaping the team for 2023. The Steinbrenner family has staggering wealth, and the Yankees ‘ franchise might be more valuable than any other professional sports team in the world — but Mets owner Steve Cohen has the sort of personal wealth that would enable him to outbid the Yankees.
And now is the perfect time to revisit the idea, whether or not staff believe they can land the slugger in a bidding war. Following a sourced report posted on the Mets’ network website, investigators from Major League Baseball are making at least a cursory examination of whether the Mets have backed away from a pursuit of Judge because of an understanding that Cohen will politely retreat from Yankees stars. If the Mets haven’t already reached out to Judge’s representatives, they could do so now in an effort to avoid an inquiry.
In the end, Judge might prefer to return to the Yankees, no matter what numbers the Mets or Giants or any other team throws at him. But Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler should take their shot, for plenty of reasons. Here are some of the many reasons the Mets should be chasing Judge and trying to pry him away from the Yankees:
1. The Mets need power for their lineup. Desperately.
The Mets’ offense was really good this season, ranking sixth among the 30 teams. But as manager Buck Showalter rotated the likes of Eduardo Escobar (20 home runs) and Mark Canha (13) in and out of the spot behind Pete Alonso, as the Mets tried to fend off the Braves, it was clear that at least one more big thumper was needed. Atlanta slugged 243 homers in 2022, 72 more than the Mets. The Braves had a heavyweight attack, a lineup stacked with knockout capability; the Mets are comprised of a lot of middleweights.
The addition of the 6-7, 282-pound Judge would dramatically shift the balance of power in the division; just one move, the coupling of Judge with Alonso in the middle, could put the Mets on the same level as the Braves, and for that matter, as the Phillies, another division rival loaded with power hitters.
The Mets could try to add power by spreading their available dollars around at DH and in the outfield. But no combination of signings or trades could come close to giving them what Judge would provide.
2. Judge fits in the Mets’ position alignment — and in their payroll.
On the field, the Mets would have options for Judge: Showalter could play him in center field and keep Starling Marte in right field, or he could move Marte back to his natural position, in center field, and play Judge in right. And as Judge gets older or deals with nagging injuries, he could spend more days at designated hitter — all places the Mets could slot him easily.
And off the field, even a whopper Judge contract fits better than you might think, too. In the Mets’ internal discussions about the big picture, sources say, they’ve talked about contending in the first years of Cohen’s ownership while also building and fostering the farm system. Cohen’s hope, according to sources, is that as the minor league system improves and continues to graduate prospects like Francisco Alvarez, good (and cheap) young players will help to keep the payroll balanced.
To that end, they have doled out a bunch of relatively short-term multiyear deals. Max Scherzer got a three-year deal for $130 million. Canha and Escobar each got two years and an option, Marte got four years. When Cohen took over as the team’s owner, he effectively promised he would spend — and he has.
But starting in 2024, the Mets have just four players locked into long-term deals: Francisco Lindor, Marte, Edwin Diaz and James McCann. Lindor is the only position player signed for 2026, at $34 million annually. Let’s say the Mets offered Judge $45 million annually for eight years. They have the space to make that work — especially if they backloaded the deal. By 2026, they would owe Judge and Lindor about $80 million to $90 million. That’s hardly prohibitive for a team that might spend $250 million to $300 million annually.
3. Judge has already answered the New York question.
Every winter, the front offices in the Bronx, Queens, Philadelphia and Boston are forced to project whether specific players will handle the adjustment required to play in front of more intense, demanding fans in the Northeast corridor. The Yankees gambled that Sonny Gray and Joey Gallo could, and they turned out to be wrong. Similarly, the Red Sox bet heavily on Carl Crawford’s transition, and that turned out to be a disaster. “You just never know,” one high-ranking executive once lamented about a player who floundered in New York.
Well, in Judge’s case, the Mets died know. Judge has already thrived in New York; he has been booed in his home park, even during a season in which he set the AL record for home runs. He has demonstrated that he is an excellent team leader, pliable and personable, always at ease. And Eppler knows Judge personally from his own days with the Yankees.
This is an incredibly rare opportunity for a team in Boston, Philly or just another borough of New York to comfortably check this important box.
4. Judge has the sort of athleticism you bet on.
Nobody really knows how someone so big will age within the baseball context, because there’s never been an elite player as big as Judge. As he loses bat speed, will his long arms translate into a catastrophic decline in his ability to catch up to a fastball? When (if) the electronic strike zone goes into effect, will it make him more vulnerable at the top of the strike zone — or maybe help him, protecting him from umpire mistakes, especially in the lower half of the zone?
But what you hear more and more from front-office types is this: You bet on athletic ability. You’re more comfortable betting on players with a wider range of physical skills. Judge can hit a ball 500 feet, but he can also run and catch and throw. He owns the strike zone and has demonstrated that he can make adjustments with his swing that other players cannot make. “That’s how I’d sell him,” said an agent who doesn’t represent Judge. “You have a player who possesses a range of physical talents that should make teams feel comfortable about a long-term investment.”
5. The Mets would own New York.
For whatever reason, the teams have basically taken turns as the dominant baseball power of the city. The Yankees owned the ’70s and ’90s, sandwiched around the Mets’ 1980s ascension. And perhaps because of that, the two teams have never really pursued the same superstars at the same time. The Yankees weren’t really involved in the Mike Piazza trade talks because they had Jorge Posada; under Wilpon ownership, the Mets often finished a polite second for stars whom the Yankees pursued.
This is a rare case where the Mets could go head-to-head with the Yankees and take their best player — the biggest star in the game — away from them. They’ve got the financial power to do it, and Cohen has the sort of will to win to make this happen.
And if it did happen — if the Mets managed to wrest Judge away from the Yankees — Cohen would have kicked off the most seismic event in the history of New York sports.