MLB

Aaron Judge free agency: The Giants’ case to sign away the Yankees slugger

Coming off a legendary 2022 season in which he set the American League single-season record for home runs and took home MVP laurels, slugger Aaron Judge is a free agent. While a return to the incumbent New York Yankees seems to be the most likely outcome, at least at this juncture, any number of teams can use Judge’s elite offensive production and broad base of skills. One of those teams is the San Francisco Giants, so let’s now make the case as to why they should vigorously pursue Judge this offseason. 

The offense

One of the biggest reasons the 2022 Giants sloughed off a whopping 26 wins from their 2021 total (107 wins to 81 in 2022) was the decline of the offense. In 2021, they ranked second in the National League in runs scored and led the NL in OPS and home runs. This season, the San Fran offense slipped back to seventh in the NL in runs scored, eighth in OPS, and sixth in home runs. That’s not terrible in isolation, but it’s a steep drop-off. Framed another way, the Giants in 2022 scored 88 fewer runs than the 2021 model did, and that’s despite having the universal DH in place this past season. That team-wide regression on offense wasn’t particularly surprising given some of the performances that drove the 2021 attack. 

Suffice it to say, adding Judge to the fray would improve the offense significantly. In 157 regular-season games, he slashed .311/.425/.686, which comes to sky-scraping OPS+ of 211. In addition to those 62 home runs, Judge also led the AL in walks and boasted top-of-the-scale batted-ball metrics. It’s likely that 2022 will stand as Judge’s career year, but even if he returns to earthly dimensions moving forward, he’s going to remain an elite force at the plate. After all, Judge coming into last season had a career OPS+ of 150, averaging 45 home runs and 102 walks per 162 games played. Remove 2022 from the calculus, and he still looks like one of the best hitters in the game today. No one on the market promises to improve a lineup like Judge does. 

The lineup

Speaking of the San Fran lineup, Judge would fill a damaging hole in it. Judge last season spent the majority of his defensive innings in center, but ideally he’s a regular right fielder, where he excels with the glove. Speaking of right field, Giants RFers last season combined to “hit” just .205/.285/.378. At the OPS level, that’s 51 points worse than the MLB average for the position. Right now, the Giants probably have Luis González penciled in as the primary in right. The 27-year-old González was a 2021 waiver claim from the White Sox, and he’s got a career OPS+ of 95 at the highest level. That is to say, he’s not what the Giants need. 

Here’s how a 2023 Giants lineup might look with Judge added to the fold: 

  1. LaMonte Wade Jr., LF

  2. Aaron Judge, RF

  3. Joc Pederson, DH

  4. J.D. Davis, 1B

  5. Mike Yastrzemski, CF

  6. Thairo Estrada, 2B

  7. Brandon Crawford, SS

  8. Wilmer Flores, 3B

  9. Joey Bart, C

That’s not a top-tier lineup, but it’s much better than the status quo, which would have the right fielder likely batting eighth. Yes, the Giants need to do more than “just” adding Judge, but it’s the best first step possible this offseason. 

The money

Like every other MLB team, the Giants are flush with revenues thanks to national and local media contracts, and they play in a large and enviable market. It’s also been some time since the Giants have invested in the roster at levels befitting their market position and dedicated fan base. Not since 2018 have they ranked in the top five in payroll, and since then they’ve been trending in the wrong direction – third in 2018, seventh in 2019, eighth in 2020, 12th in 2021 and 13th last season. Right now, they’re in line for the 14th highest payroll in MLB for 2023. If president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is serious about contending in 2023 and beyond, then investment needs to happen. 

Yes, Judge is a substantial investment, and he’ll perhaps command $300 million or more on the market. He’s going into his age-31 season, and he has an uncommonly large body type. Those don’t augur well for how he’ll age, but on the other hand he’s skilled in the field and on the bases, and that in tandem with his peerless quality-of-contact skills at the plate suggests he will retain his skills for some time. What’s almost beyond doubt, though, is that Judge will provide tremendous worth at the front end of whatever contract he signs, and the Giants can more than afford the going rates for such a needle-mover. 

The tough NL West

The NL West houses two certified contenders – the Dodgers and Padres – and the former will probably once again be the best team in baseball. Farther down the standings, the Diamondbacks, thanks to a promising base of young talent and possible willingness to make roster investments, may return to relevance in 2023. That raises the bar for the Giants, even with the expanded postseason field. On another level, those rival Dodgers may themselves be Judge suitors this winter. So a San Fran play for the slugger would not only buttress their roster and hopes in a tough loop like the NL West but also keep him out of the Dodgers’ already star-laden hands. 

As noted, the Giants have other needs that can be best addressed by free agent additions, but Judge should be priority No. 1 for them this winter. No player available so directly addresses such a grave area of need at Oracle Park.



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