When the New York Yankees extended Aaron Judge on a nine-year, $362 million deal, they weren’t thinking of a position change or changing anything at all.
In fact, if Judge could run back his 2022 season exactly, they would be more than ecstatic. At 30 years old, the behemoth slugger played 157 out of 162 games, posting a .311 average, .425 OBP, slugging 62 homers, and 131 RBIs with 16 stolen bases. He recorded a 25.1% strikeout rate and a 15.9% walk rate with a 207 wRC+, the highest in his career by a significant margin. He was an 11.4 WAR player, and while the Yankees may not get that version of him in 2023, even his 2021 numbers would suffice.
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While many harp Judge’s offensive qualities and contributions, it is easy to forget he’s one of the best right fielders in the game and proved to be a stellar centerfielder as well last year. Specifically, he enjoyed 491.2 innings in RF, posting a perfect fielding percentage with two defensive runs saved. In CF, he played 632.2 innings, putting together another perfect fielding percentage with one defensive run saved.
Over the course of his professional career, Judge has only played in the outfield, which is why it is interesting to see him taking reps at first base prior to spring training.
The Yankees could use Aaron Judge strategically to help mitigate workloads:
Judge was collecting ground balls at first base and receiving throws from Iaiah Kiner-Falefa and DJ LeMahieu, which certainly raises an important question.
Will the Yankees put Judge at 1B to supplement and manage Anthony Rizzo‘s workload in 2023?
Rizzo has dealt with chronic back issues the past few seasons, playing 130 games for the Bombers last year. If he hovers around that mark, Judge can easily slide it at first since he only missed a handful of games due to rest-related reasons.
Of course, the Yankees still have DJ LeMahieu as a supplement at first, but they also have to manage his workload coming off a toe injury that ended his 2022 season prematurely and forced him to miss the entire postseason. Judge has experience playing first prior to reaching the MLB, so he can see mostly fill the spot and give one of his best friends on the team, Rizzo, a few days of rest.
The most important variable is keeping Judge’s bat in the lineup since the Yankees saw a significant drop-off in production whenever he enjoyed the day to himself.
Judge missing game simply isn’t a frequent reality, so the Yankees don’t need to worry. However, first base could be considered a less grueling position than the outfield, which requires far more running.
Playing first base may get a lot more action, but Judge can likely mitigate injury a bit further there, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yankees utilize him in lieu of DJ, who may end up starting at third base to open the year.