Yankees’ Update on Aaron Judge: There Will Be No Updates

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Wednesday was the midpoint of the Yankees’ 2022 season. Through 81 games, they not only had the best record (58-23) in Major League Baseball, but they also were on a pace to match the 1906 Chicago Cubs and the 2001 Seattle Mariners for the most wins (116) in a 162-game regular season.

One of the biggest reasons for the Yankees’ success is outfielder Aaron Judge. Entering Wednesday night’s game at Pittsburgh, he led M.L.B. with 29 home runs, was fifth in on-base plus slugging percentage at .972 and tied for sixth in wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs.

Judge’s future, though, has hung over the Yankees all season. A longtime Yankee who says he wants to remain in pinstripes, Judge will be eligible for free agency for the first time in his career after the season. Despite an attempt by the Yankees to sign him to a long-term extension before the regular season, he will be allowed to — and he indicated he would — talk to all 30 teams over the winter. But until then, he has said, he does not want to negotiate.

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“No matter what happens during the season, we’re not going to give any updates,” Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, said Wednesday on a video call with reporters.

“We’re just not going to do it,” he continued. “I completely agreed with Aaron — and still do — that in no way, shape or form can this be a distraction. The sole focus is winning a championship. That’s all anyone needs to worry about right now.”

Before the season, Steinbrenner authorized the front office to offer Judge an extension that would have guaranteed him $213.5 million for seven years. Despite the season Judge has had — he is on a pace to match or top his 2017 season, in which he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award and was the most valuable player runner-up — and how his price tag has probably gone up, Steinbrenner said he had no regrets about the Yankees’ rejected offer.

He said the team’s proposal was “a very good one” and based on the numbers and “what he means to this organization.” Because of the labor fight with the players over the winter, Steinbrenner said, the lockout cut down on the time the Yankees could have negotiated with Judge before the season.

But still, Steinbrenner said, t he team would have discussions with Judge after the season. He said he was hopeful that Judge, who turned 30 in April, remains in pinstripes, but “there’s a lot of discussion to be had.”

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“He’s been phenomenal,” Steinbrenner added later.

Winning a World Series, which would be the Yankees’ first since 2009, may help Judge’s case for a record-setting contract for an outfielder. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, 30, a three-time A.L. M.V.P., averages $35.5 million per year through 2030.

Despite entering the season with many questions about whether they had done enough to improve, the Yankees have been the best team in baseball. Behind the right-hander Gerrit Cole and the left-hander Nestor Cortes, the pitching rotation has been the backbone of the roster. The bullpen has found stability in Clay Holmes and Michael King while Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Jonathan Loáisiga dealt with injuries.

But most improved are the lineup (notably dropping its strikeout rate) and the defense, by replacing catcher Gary Sanchez with Jose Trevino and shortstop Gleyber Torres with Isiah Kiner-Falefa and moving Torres to second base.

“I didn’t spend $300 million to do it, but I think most people are pretty happy with Isiah and the job he’s done,” said Steinbrenner, presumably alluding to the team’s record payroll for luxury tax purposes of $259 million, which trailed the Mets ($288 million) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($302 million). Steinbrenner faced criticism in the off-season for holding on to top shortstop prospects and not signing a prized free-agent shortstop such as Corey Seager or Carlos Correa.

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“I knew we had a team that was capable of great things, but I’m not going to sit here and say that I absolutely knew that they’d be off to the historic start that they are,” Steinbrenner said. He called the team special not only for its performance on the field but in the clubhouse.

Steinbrenner also pointed to new members of Manager Aaron Boone’s coaching staff — specifically the hitting coach, Dillon Lawson — as key reasons this season has gone better for the Yankees, who were 92-70 in 2021 and fell to the Boston Red Sox in the A.L. wild-card game. After ranking below average last season, the Yankees’ offense (five runs per game) has trailed only the Dodgers (5.04 runs per game) in scoring this year.

In terms of potential ways to fortify the roster ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline, Steinbrenner said he had not yet sat down with the front office. He said a team could never have enough pitching, and he reiterated his reticence to trade top prospects.

Steinbrenner predicted his team might face the Houston Astros, who won the since-tainted 2017 World Series title and have been a tough opponent since, in the playoffs. He also daydreamed about an all-New York World Series with the Mets, who have been one of the best teams in the National League.

“To have two good teams is a good thing, and boy that’s what we’ve got,” he said. “And meeting in the postseason, I’m all for it. It means I’ll be there.”

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