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Thursday night New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is expected to be named the AL's Most Valuable Player. He smashed 62 home runs this past season and his 11.4 FanGraphs WAR are the most by any player since Barry Bonds had an 11.9 WAR season in 2004. It was going to take a historic season to beat out Shohei Ohtani for AL MVP and Judge indeed had a historic season.

Of course, Judge is not a New York Yankee right now. He's not anything. He's an unsigned free agent and technically unemployed. Judge will sign a massive contract in the coming days and weeks, one that figures to be worth at least $300 million. He turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer in spring training and managed to make himself a lot more money this season.

"We'd love to keep him. Love to have him back," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said about Judge earlier this month (video). "Obviously he placed a bet on himself, and that bet has paid off. He had an amazing run, continued to add to the back of his baseball card. He's got a lot more game left in him, so we hope that game happens to remain in pinstripes."

Aaron Judge
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The reasons to sign Judge are obvious. He's a great player, one of the best in the world even before his 62-homer season, and he is still in the middle of his prime. Judge is also everything a team wants in a franchise player. He is beloved in the clubhouse and represents the organization and the sport well. Judge is a controversy-free superstar.

There are two sides to every coin though, and there are reasons to be wary of a long-term commitment for the likely AL MVP. Let's go through those reasons now and also offer a rebuttal. It's always easy to come up with reasons to not do something. Making the bold decision to do that something anyway is often what separates contenders from pretenders. 

Age and size

Judge will turn 31 on April 26, so he will play most of the first season of his next contract at age 31. An eight-year deal would take him through his age 38 season, the same age Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are signed through. That said, Harper and Trout signed their long-term contracts in their 20s. To get those peak years, the Phillies and Angels had to sign Harper and Trout deep into their 30s. That was the cost of doing business.

With Judge, there are no seasons in his 20s to be had. A hypothetical eight-year contract through age 38 will buy decline years in bulk. There are always exceptions, but by and large players perform worse in their 30s than they did in their 20s. On top of that, Judge is a 6-foot-7 behemoth and there is very little history of players that size having success into their late 30s. Here is the all-time WAR leaderboard after age 30 for hitters 6-foot-6 and taller:

  1. Dave Winfield: 26.2 WAR after age 30
  2. Frank Howard: 17.8 WAR
  3. Giancarlo Stanton: 3.8 WAR (turned 33 earlier this month)
  4. Dave Kingman: 2.8 WAR
  5. Adam Wainwright: 2.2 WAR

Wainwright, a pitcher, is fifth all-time in WAR after age 30 by a hitter standing at least 6-foot-6. In fact, only six other hitters standing 6-foot-6 have amassed even 1 WAR after turning 31, and two of the six are pitchers (Derek Lowe and Rick Sutcliffe). Tony Clark, Dick Hall, Richie Sexson, and Darryl Strawberry are the other four. The history of 6-foot-6 hitters after age 30 is awful.

A long-term contract for Judge is a potential double whammy. He turns 31 soon after Opening Day, so the contract figures to include a lot of decline years, plus he's 6-foot-7. There is very little track record of hitters that size having success in their 30s. It's Winfield and Howard, plus whatever Stanton does from here on out, and that's pretty much it. Based on that, signing a soon-to-be 31-year-old 6-foot-7 hitter to a long-term deal is one of the worst signings a team could make.

Counterpoint: There's no counterpoint to age. We all get older and baseball players decline with age. Whichever team signs Judge will enter his contract understanding that. As for the size issue, isn't Winfield the best historical comp for Judge given his athleticism and career to date? With all due respect to Howard and Kingman, they were lumbering sluggers who made their money in the batter's box. Judge is an excellent runner and defender who played center field (and played it well) for much of 2022.

Comparing Judge is other players is folly because there are no other players like him. He's been an outlier his entire life and career because of his size, his athleticism, and his all-around baseball skills. During his prospect days I had someone tell me Judge is a tremendous pure hitter who would never hit for as high an average as he should because he has such long levers. Well, Judge hit .311 this past season. Those long levels have not held him back. Why assume Judge will age like Kingman or Sexson when he's nothing like them as a player?

He'll never repeat 2022

Teams are getting better at paying players for expected future performance rather than past performance, but paying for past performance definitely still happens. Judge just wrapped up a historic 2022 season, one that saw him challenge for a Triple Crown and set a new American League record with 62 home runs. He finished the season with a 211 OPS+, meaning he was 111 percent better than the average hitter once adjusted for ballpark and the league's run scoring environment. Here are the last four AL players to post a 200 OPS+:


Frank Thomas, White Sox




George Brett, Royals




Norm Cash, Tigers




Mickey Mantle, Yankees




Thomas did it during the strike-shortened 1994 season (only 113 games played). Prior to Mantle, who did it three times himself, the only other AL players to manage a 200 OPS+ season were Babe Ruth (11 times), Ted Williams (six times), Lou Gehrig (three times), Ty Cobb (three times), Jimmie Foxx (two times), and Nap Lajoie (once). The greatest hitters to ever live, basically.

Judge had the greatest contract year in baseball history and maybe even sports history. There's so very little chance Judge ever does that again. Sign him to a big contract this winter and you're paying a premium for a season he's already had and is unlikely to repeat. The Orioles signed Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million contract coming off a 47-homer season (and 126 homers in the previous three years) and regretted it before the ink dried. They paid him for what he'd done in the past, not what he'd do in the future.

Counterpoint: It's a little disingenuous to say whichever team signs Judge won't benefit from his 2022, right? Because when they sign him, what's going in ticket sale emails and on billboards? It's that Judge hit 62 homers in 2022 and now we have him, and you give us money to come watch him. That appeal of 2022 won't last through the entirety of Judge's next contract, but make no mistake, those 62 homers will make his next team a lot of money in 2023.

Also, Judge doesn't need to repeat 2022 to be worth a big contract. He hit .287/.383/.544 with 39 home runs and 6.0 WAR in 2021, and finished fourth in the AL MVP voting. He entered 2022 as a career .276/.386/.554 hitter who averaged 45 home runs and 7.4 WAR per 162 games. Judge has produced at an MVP caliber level throughout his career. His decline years may not be far away, but Judge is starting from such a high baseline that he'll still be better than most when he begins to decline. ZiPS projects Judge to remain a 3 WAR player through 2028. Maybe he never repeats 2022 again, but there's no reason to think he'll be less than great the next few seasons.

Injury history

Due to several injuries, Judge played only 242 of 384 possible regular season games from 2018-20, or 63 percent. His injury history extends back further than that too, including injuries in the minors and also during his AL Rookie of the Year season in 2017. Here is a recap of Judge's injuries:

YearTime missedInjury


Approximately two months

Did not play after being drafted because of a torn quad muscle.


24 days

PCL sprain and bone bruise in left knee suffered diving for a ball in Triple-A.


Season ended Sept. 13

Right oblique strain in MLB.



Suffered left shoulder injury after crashing into the wall several times. Played through it, then had offseason surgery.


49 days

Broken right wrist suffered when he was hit by a pitch.


61 days

Left oblique strain.



Fractured rib suffered diving for a ball in September. Played through it, but would have missed the start of 2020 if not for the pandemic shutdown.


30 days total

Right calf strain and setback (two stints on injured list)

It's a lot. Some are bad luck baseball injuries (broken wrist on a hit-by-pitch, crashing into the wall, etc.) and some injuries are just a big guy pulling his big muscles. Judge is a large human with a lot of large muscles to strain. He has been no stranger to the injured list in his career.

I am speaking from experience when I tell you the older you get, the more things hurt and the longer it takes to recover. That applies to world class athletes as well. The best predictor of future injury is past injury, and now that Judge is in his 30s, the injuries could become more frequent and require more time to heal. The best ability is availability and Judge hasn't always provided it.

Counterpoint: Did you notice the table stopped in 2020? Judge played 148 games in 2021 and 157 games in 2022, with the only blemish being a 10-day stint on the COVID list in August 2021. He started 55 consecutive games from Aug. 5 to Oct. 4 this season, a stretch that is Ripkenian these days given load management strategies (the Yankees in particular rest their players quite a bit). Judge has had injury trouble in his career, but the most recent information is the most relevant information, and the most recent information is a player who posted up just about every single game the last two years.

It should also be noted Judge doesn't have a chronic injury that continually flares up. Anthony Rizzo, Judge's teammate with the Yankees the last year and a half, has dealt with a nagging back issue just about his entire career. That's a red flag because it is one single injury that gives Rizzo problems year after year. Judge doesn't have a knee that barks each year or a back to tightens up now and then. Nothing like that. The Yankees know Judge and his medicals better than anyone and they were still comfortable signing him for huge dollars through his age 37 season with their spring extension offer. That tells us something.

Opportunity cost

Every dollar you spend on Judge is a dollar you can't spend on other players, and we're talking about a player who could command upwards of $40 million per season. Even with a $300 million payroll, Judge could eat up something like 13-15 percent of his team's payroll. The Astros just won the World Series with Jose Altuve accounting for nearly 14 percent of their payroll, so you can certainly win a title while committing that much money to one player. That doesn't mean it'll be easy though.

The Yankees already re-signed Rizzo to play first base for the next two years, but they still need to add a left fielder and remake the left side of their infield. Would it be better to spread the money around and sign multiple good players rather than spend heavily on one star player? You can make that argument. The Red Sox won the World Series with the "spread the money around" strategy in 2013. Bottom line, payroll space is finite for every team. The more you spend on Judge (in his 30s), the less you can spend on other parts of the roster. Is there another way to spend that money and build a better, more complete roster? It's a reasonable question.

Counterpoint: A team committing huge money to Judge and then not having enough to built a contending roster around him is an ownership and front office problem, not a Judge problem. Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $252 million contract with the Rangers is widely panned, but he hit .304/.400/.591 and won three MVP awards during that first seven years of that contract (he opted out of the final three years). A-Rod held up his end of the bargain. It wasn't his fault Texas spent $65 million on Chan Ho Park, or decided Gabe Kapler and Ricky Ledee were two-thirds of a starting outfield his first year with the team.

The worst contracts are not big money contracts for stars. The worst contracts are long contracts for good but not truly great players. Think Chris Davis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Heyward, Eric Hosmer, etc. Those are the contracts that become real albatrosses. If an owner and a front office decides to spend big on Judge and is then unable to surround him with the rest of a contending roster, then that's on them and their bad decision-making. Yes, there's an opportunity cost associated with signing Judge, but that applies to every contract. The only difference here is his next contract will be bigger than most. Being efficient with spending and putting the best team on the field aren't always the same thing.

There are valid reasons to pass on a long-term contract with Judge, most notably his age and the (lack of) history of players this size having success deep into their 30s. As with every other baseball decision, there's a risk and a reward. The risk is spending a lot of money on a player whose decline isn't that far away. The reward is adding an MVP caliber player to your lineup, and if you're a team in position to contend the next few years, assuming that risk is more than defensible.