How Will the Re-Signing of Aaron Judge Affect the AL East?

The biggest fish in the MLB free agent market is officially off the board. Star outfielder Aaron Judge has opted to re-sign with the Yankees, reportedly agreeing to a nine-year deal that will earn him $360 million. It’s a high price, but a necessary one. While it’s very much unclear as to how Judge will fair throughout the course of the deal, the reality is that he is far too important for a Yankees club looking to win right now.

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A Look at Aaron Judge

I don’t need to spend too much time on Aaron Judge and his stats, for obvious reasons. Since his debut in late 2016, Aaron Judge has been arguably the league’s best hitter, thanks in large (no pun intended) part to his incredible bat speed and power. Since 2016, Judge has hit 220 home runs, won three Silver Sluggers, an AL Rookie of the Year award in 2017, and the AL MVP award this past year.

Judge posted an incredible .311/.435/.686 slash line for the AL East champs this past season, driving in 131 runs and cracking an American League record 62 home runs. Judge was also at the top of virtually every single advanced analytic in 2022, including OPS+ , Hard Hit%, and average exit velocity. And in addition to his bat, Judge was also an above-average defender in the outfield. Judge ranked among the top 15% of players in both Outs Above Average and Arm Strength.

If there was a blemish on Judge’s 2022 season, it was during the postseason. Judge batted .200 in the ALDS against Cleveland, and mustered just one hit over 17 plate appearances in the ALCS against the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.

How it Affects the Yankees and the AL East

If the Yankees lost Aaron Judge to the Giants or Padres, it would have had a devastating effect on the Bronx Bombers. That much can’t be disputed, just from looking at the production received from the rest of the cast around Judge. The recently re-signed Anthony Rizzo (131 OPS+) and Gleyber Torres (114 OPS+) both had solid seasons, as the duo drove in 151 runs combined for the AL East champions. Harrison Bader, acquired at the Trade Deadline, broke out during the MLB Playoffs. Giancarlo Stanton and D.J. LeMahieu, when healthy, also provided a punch. Those two, though, missed a bit of time in 2022. The former, in particular, has been a major conundrum for the Yankees. Stanton did stay healthy in 2021, but the former NL MVP missed a significant amount of games in 2019, 2020, and this past season.

Then, there’s the issue with the remainder of the supporting cast. The lack of production from Josh Donaldson (94 OPS+) and Aaron Hicks (86 OPS+) last year was jarring, but both will be back for 2023 barring another team taking on one of their contracts. Jose Trevino and Isiah Kiner-Falefa were also below-average offensive threats in 2022, as well.

Plain and simple, the amount of question marks sans Judge would have left the Yankees in a very precarious position. With his return, the lineup looks much more stable and retains much of the status quo that helped the Yankees win 99 games. That doesn’t, though, mean that the Yankees management should start looking ahead to 2023. A left fielder, preferably a left-handed hitting one that can help balance out a right-handed heavy lineup, would be ideal. A re-union with Andrew Benintendi would make sense, as would Brandon Nimmo.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the rotation. It’s solid at the moment, with strikeout machine Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes Jr., and Luis Severino at the top, with Frankie Montas and Domingo German as back-end options. Severino, however, has been oft-injured dating back to 2019. His inability to stay healthy, along with the loss of Jameson Taillon to the Cubs, does mean that the Yankees should look at picking up another starter.

The AL East, at the moment, looks to be a slog once again. An up-and-coming Orioles team, along with two playoff teams from 2022 in Toronto and Tampa Bay, all pose threats to a Yankees team that flourished in the first half before crashing down in the second half. Baltimore and Toronto haven’t made any major moves to improve as of yet, and the Rays’ only significant add was RHP Zach Eflin. But, all three still return strong teams from last season and each have youth on its side.

New York is still in a solid position, as re-signing Judge brings back an elite bat that is essentially irreplaceable. But as things stand right now, the Yanks do need to add another arm in the rotation, as well as another bat to provide some needed protection for Judge, Rizzo, Torres, and Stanton.

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