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Aaron Judge, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player Award winner and the top free agent available this offseason, made his free-agent decision on Wednesday morning, returning to the New York Yankees on a nine-year pact that will pay him $360 million. Judge's contract ranks as one of the five most lucrative in Major League Baseball history, be it in terms of total value or an average annual value.

While the bidding for Judge was expected to come down to the Yankees and the San Francisco Giants, there was a surprising addition to the mix. The San Diego Padres, authors of ample blockbuster deals in recent years, were not only involved in the process, they reportedly insinuated they would pay more than what Judge received, according to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com. The Athletic pushed back against reports that the Padres offered Judge a 10-year, $400 million deal, while Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, meanwhile, notes that no formal offer was ever made. The Padres did, nevertheless, "make it clear they were willing to meet his price, and the Yankees were evidently under the impression the Padres were serious about paying $40 million a year."

This marks the second time in a matter of days that the Padres made a top free agent a larger bid only to see them sign elsewhere. Indeed, the Padres kicked off the Winter Meetings with a massive offer to shortstop Trea Turner. He then opted instead to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies for $300 million, or $42 million less than what he would've received with San Diego.

That revelation caused our Matt Snyder to break down how the Padres were again shopping at the top of the market -- even after obtaining Juan Soto and Manny Machado, and re-signing Fernando Tatis Jr. and Joe Musgrove, among others -- and who could be their next target. To quote Snyder directly:

The Padres right now look to have $184.2 million on the books for 2023 after figuring in arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries, according to baseball-reference.com estimation. It seems like rotation depth is more important than adding another superstar, but it's possible they can make do with Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell, Nick Martinez, Adrian Morejon, Julio Teheran and more (Ryan Weathers bounce back?). 

As for where the Padres might turn from here, it's anyone's guess. The best remaining free agents in our estimation are shortstops Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson, as well as left-hander Carlos Rodón and outfielder Brandon Nimmo. The Padres, it should be noted, have already been connected to Bogaerts.