A few short years ago, following one of the most exciting postseason runs in recent Yankee history, the team decided to bolster up and acquire NL MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. Adding Stanton was seen as one of the best moves in MLB history, as the Yankees were getting an elite player on both sides of the ball, and one that instills the deepest of fear in opposing pitchers’ eyes.
Not to mention the Yanks only ended up giving up Starlin Castro, Jorge Guzman — who at the time was the ninth-ranked prospect in the system, and Jose Devers. Giving up that little for a player of Stanton’s skill and pedigree, only losing out on one impact player, goes to show that the Yankees while doing a great piece of business, were inevitably still taking a risk. The reason Stanton was traded because the Marlins knew he had his mindset on going elsewhere to win, and also the fact his contract was far too big for the Marlins to handle. Add to that, the Marlins themselves were not in any true spot for contention and were already in the process of dismantling their core.
Lofty Expectations and a bar set too high
When Stanton arrived in New York, there was mass hysteria over the Aaron Judge and Stanton combination, as some were even calling them the Two Towers — in reference to both the critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and also due to their mammoth physical stature and overall impact. Aaron Judge was just named AL Rookie of the Year and was wrongfully skipped over in AL MVP voting for everyone’s favorite player, Jose Altuve. The aspirations and expectations were both through the roof for this Yankees team, and many believed that this was the squad that could follow in the Core Four’s footsteps. Adding Stanton to an already explosive lineup and dynamic pitching staff — including a dominant bullpen, should’ve been the cherry on top. However, as all Yankees fans have now seen, it has not lived up to expectations.
The one thing I have continually noticed over the last three seasons now since Stanton has been in Pinstripes is that regardless of what he does, there will be criticism clouding it. In 2018, Stanton played in 158 games, clobbering 38 HR to pair with a 129 WRC+, en route to a .852 OPS & 4.3 fWAR season. However, rather than looking at those numbers and his impact to the squad, people instead chose to view it as a massive downgrade from his MVP year the year prior. The expectation for a player to hit 59 HR in their career once is very low, but for that player to do it back-to-back years? Near non-existent. I don’t want people to view acquiring Stanton and not yet having a ring out of it in the mindset that, therefore, the deal failed. Baseball is a team sport as any, and unfortunately for the Yankees, things just haven’t worked out up to this point.
Now, getting into the main discussion point here in this article, will we ever get to see Judge and Stanton to the fullest? Over the past three years, Giancarlo and Aaron Judge have had constant trips and extended stays on the IL. While I am one that has essentially excused some of those injuries — for the most part — I still believe that there is definitely more to be wanted and seen from these two sluggers.
The only problem that keeps on recurring is that Judge and G cannot stay on the field at the same time, and their frequent injury stints cause this team’s cohesion and chemistry to falter. While it isn’t off the field issues, any time there is a massive absence in the LU, everyone else is hurting from it as well. Having lineup protection, balance, and a 1-9 of competent hitters, all are put on the edge when one of Gian or Judge gets hurt — especially when it’s both of them.
The question so many people have isn’t “Is this working out?” when talking about Giancarlo and Judge, but instead it is more of “When will this be what we all expected?”. To say both have been poor for the Yankees — and to some extremes for Judge, to say he doesn’t deserve to be given an extension — simply because of their injuries is false to the highest degree. While yes, it is extremely disappointing and difficult to manage when both guys get injured, there is no doubting either of their abilities when healthy. With that, there is no way to predict the future, sadly, and there is no telling whether or not both guys come back next year and play 150+ games each. Even this year, in a shortened season with a generously extended offseason, Stanton appeared in 23 regular-season games, while Judge only played in 28. To have the two best hitters on the team — other than DJ LeMahieu, not even combine to play the whole 60 game season, is brutal. It leads one to wonder if this is what it will be like for the duration of Stanton’s stay — as his contract is basically immovable, and what the future truly holds for Aaron Judge.
For me, keeping Judge in Pinstripes has always been a no brainer. Adding to that, the idea that Judge could very well replace Jeter as the captain goes to show that he’s more than a great player. The only argument to not keeping Judge is that each season following his ROY campaign, he has played less and less games. Having played in 155 his rookie year, he played in 112 the next, 102 in ’19, and as mentioned, 28 this last year. The same trajectory has been on display for Stanton, as since his 158 game debut season in ’18, he’s played in just 41 of a possible 222 games. Yet, it is so difficult to judge a player’s quality and contributions to the team, when in reality, a player getting injured isn’t entirely 100% their fault. For the Yankees training and medical staff to have overseen the most separate injured stints in a single season in MLB history, back in ’19 with 36, is unacceptable as well. The idea, however, that we have seen the peak of the Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton pairing is the one that is, unfortunately, inching closer and closer to being true. As of now, though, there is so much more that can come from this combination, and assuming both guys are to play 80% of this upcoming season’s games, one couldn’t ask for more than that given what they’ve shown they can do.
Do the Yankees NEED Judge and Stanton to be elite in order to succeed?
Yet, a counter-argument to one wanting more from Judge and Stanton is that it may be needed less now than before. The Yankees offense with the absence of Judge and Stanton still clicked and put out some fantastic showings. Breakout seasons, for the casual fans that is, of both Voit and Urshela, helped lead the Yankees to a solid campaign. Perhaps this next season, Judge and Stanton are relied on less than they’ve been in their careers, allowing the game and reps to come to them naturally, rather than trying to put the team on their massive shoulders. Having this group of talented and well-rounded players most definitely makes life easier for both Gian and Judge. One who will be positioned for another step toward greatness is Gleyber Torres, who seemed to have things clicking for the back half of the season and postseason as well — 134 WRC+ in the second half of the season, compared to an 85 in the first half.
Assuming Voit and co continue their trajectory path and rise, and even if there is some slight regression, having the health and longevity of Stanton and Judge couldn’t come at a better time. For all the naysayers and doubters that have been riding both for so long about failing to stay on the field, there is no more satisfactory way to prove them wrong than going out and performing for the entire season. I truly don’t believe that we’ve seen all this once labeled “Best duo in baseball” when things began, can do. There is always more to be wanted from players of both their calibers, but with the team around them having shown tremendous signs of growth and other guys having stepped up, this is the year that Judge and Stanton may not need to take the reigns. Essentially, having Judge and Stanton both elite and healthy will benefit this team in the long run far more than if both overwork and try to do too much in spurts throughout the year. While it isn’t a necessity to have both be perennial MVP candidates, and play all 162 games, to perform at All-Star levels from both, whilst playing 80% of the season, to both of them should be. There is not a more pivotal moment in Giancarlo Stanton’s career than this upcoming season. Having this much money behind him, with the expectations and bar he set, he must deliver. This last year we saw Stanton single-handedly carry a stagnant Yankees offense throughout the postseason, and if there’s more of that in-store, sign me up.
Simply put, the Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton experiment is well underway but is nowhere near over. To make any sort of claim that neither Judge nor Stanton deserves to be on this team should be brushed aside, as ultimately, even when they’re not at their best or are struggling to stay on the field, they are still far better than the vast majority of alternative options. Aaron Judge will be a Yankee for life, and it appears as if Giancarlo will be right beside him. As for other players that were also expected to be cornerstones of this franchise back at the start of the ’18 season when this experiment began, Gary Sanchez and Miguel Andujar, this is the time to make up for lost time. In Sanchez’s case, it may be too little too late, as Higashioka was a fantastic backup option this year — and proved to be one of the better defensive catchers as well. In Andujar’s, having as rough and inconsistent of a year as he had last year, there should be no other response from him than to keep his chin up and keep training hard. There’s no doubting either one of those guys’ abilities and ceilings, and going along with Judge and Stanton, it is crucial for them to bounce back.
Though we may never get to see that once cherished, of course, outlandishly exciting idea of a “200 HR” season from Judge, Gleyber, Sanchez & Stanton, there is still much to appreciate. Yet, as mentioned earlier, there may not be a need for that to happen, especially with Voit, Gio, Clint Frazier, and numerous others continuing to improve each year. The time of “superstar led” baseball teams may be nearing a close, and the time of cohesive units that are all capable of taking the reigns at any given time may be near. As for Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, this upcoming year is the biggest for both of their respective individual careers. Having them both firing on all cylinders while playing the Yankee baseball we all love to see, and getting consistent contributions from other guys, is a realistic and exciting thought.