Yankees GM Brian Cashman is staring down the barrel of a monster contract situation

New York Yankees, Yankees, Brian Cashman

When New York Yankees star slugger Aaron Judge turned down a seven-year contract worth $30.5 million per season, most thought he was foolish. However, Judge took a monster risk on himself, and so far, it is paying off in dividends.

Judge is heading toward free agency at the end of the 2022 season, but he’s mainly focused on winning a World Series this year before reeling in every last dollar a team is willing to pay him on the open market. Judge has the marketability and positive image that every team wants at the head of their organization. That value has put GM Brian Cashman in a tumultuous spot.

“At the end of the year, I’m a free agent now,” Judge said a few months ago. “Talk to 30 teams. The Yankees will be one of those 30 teams.”

Judge is operating by the book, listening to his representatives so he can milk the Yankees for one of the biggest contracts in Major League Baseball.

Over 53 games this season, Judge is hitting .315 with a 38.5% on base rate and .685 slugging percentage. Having hit 39 home runs last season over 148 games, he’s on pace to hit over 65 homers this season, which would smash his previous record of 52 back in 2017.

Looking at his advanced metrics, Judge hosts a career-best 61.9% hard-hit rate, 25.9% barrel rate, and 96.1 average exit velocity. Interestingly, opposing pitchers have stopped throwing their fastball as much against Aaron, seeing a big increase in offspeed pitches to 17.9% from 12.3% in 2020.

The 6’7″, 287-pound outfielder ranks in the 100 percentile in hard-hit %, barrel %, xSLG, wxOBA, and average exit velocity. To go along with his elite offensive attributes, Judge is also a stellar outfielder, transitioning to center field for 174 innings of action this season. With Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo struggling, Judge has supplemented them valiantly, showcasing his value even more.

How much will the Yankees have to pay Aaron Judge on an extension?

There is a strong argument to be made that Judge will earn upward of $35 million per season when it’s all said and done. The question is, how much money do the Yankees have at their disposal?

Currently, the Yankees have $247.6 million under their payroll with a $259.4 million total tax allocation after passing the $230 million luxury tax threshold this year. Looking ahead to 2023, the Yankees only have $145.7 million on the books, giving them a bit of room to work with.

Of course, after they go through arbitration, which includes 13 different players, that number will increase dramatically. Judge is earning $17 million in the third year of arbitration, and that number will likely shoot up to $35+ million per season or so if the Yankees extend him. That will account for about 14.5% of the team’s total payroll.

Luckily, they do have a few contracts coming off the books, including Joey Gallo, Zack Britton, Chad Green, and Aroldis Chapman. That adds an additional $46 million the Yankees can we allocate toward other players. Given Judge is earning $17 million now, they will have to pay him an additional $18 million in salary, assuming he earns $35 million per season on a new contract.

Cashman needs to be planning long-term for Judge’s extension:

Cashman must be spending plenty of time figuring out how he’s going to operate next season, trying to put together another competitive roster while replacing three impact players who are in the final year of their contracts (Chapman, Gallo, Britton.) Luckily, Gallo isn’t performing well this season, and Britton is still rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery. Even Chapman has been degrading at an astronomical rate, dealing with Achilles tendinitis.

Paying Judge should be a simple decision for the Yankees. The concern is regarding the longevity of his career and if it will end up matching the value of his contract. At 30 years old, Judge is seeking a 10-year deal that will end when he’s 40. Can the Yankees really assume a player of his physical stature will maintain this level of play for even half that amount of time?

That may be a risk they have to take.

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