So now what?
In re-signing Aaron Judge, did Hal Steinbrenner dig deeper than he wanted to merely as a way of saving himself from angry Yankees fans? Or is he willing to do still more to close the gap on the Houston Astros and win that first championship in the Bronx since 2009?
How the Yankees proceed with Carlos Rodon likely will be revealing in that sense.
They’ve been in pursuit of Rodon, as SNY’s Andy Martino has reported, in recent weeks, but was that a hedge against the possibility of losing Judge or a sign they’re committed to spending whatever it takes to win again?
The Yankees need to bring back Andrew Benintendi as well, but Rodon is the real difference-maker now that Judge has been re-signed to the tune of nine years and $360 million, or a universe away from the $213.5 million the ballclub offered in a very public manner back in April.
Judge played his hand brilliantly to get the very most out of the Yankees, to the point where everyone in baseball seemed to think he was signing with the San Francisco Giants for at least a few hours on Tuesday night.
By telling the world, via a well-timed Time Magazine article, how insulted he was by the Yankees going public with their offer in the spring, and how he’d once dreamed of playing for his hometown Giants, Judge certainly created the perception that he might indeed leave.
Was it just poker? Judge knew he had all the leverage, and perhaps he knew how badly Steinbrenner was backed into a corner.
People who know the owner well say Hal was shaken by the way fans booed him at the Stadium last summer, first when he showed up for the Paul O’Neill ceremony and then when Derek Jeter merely mentioned him in his speech in September during a ceremony for The Captain.
Such is the perception that Hal is Steinbrenner Lite, if you will, compared to his father, in terms of his commitment to winning. And while George never had to deal with the significant penalties that MLB has since imposed on spending at the highest level, fans don’t want to hear it after 13 years without a World Series appearance.
In any case, Steinbrenner raised his offer to match that of the Giants, reportedly after getting a personal assurance from Judge that he wanted to re-sign with the Yankees, and got his man, thereby avoiding an even higher level of outrage from the fans.
All of which prompts the question of whether he’s now all-in on winning that elusive next championship or he’s content with bringing back Judge.
After all, the gap between the Houston Astros and Yankees looked awfully wide during that four-game ALCS sweep in October. And Houston’s remarkable pitching depth means the ‘Stros still be very formidable even after losing Justin Verlander to the Mets.
Bottom line, Judge is now going to have to deliver in the postseason to make good on being the highest-paid (per year) position player in the game. His failure to hit against the Astros (1-for-16) was a huge factor in the lopsided nature of the series, and it’s hard to see the Yankees winning a championship without him having a big October in the years to come.
If that happens, Judge will have been worth every dollar for a franchise that measures itself by nothing less than those championships. As bad as the Alex Rodriguez contract looked in the end for the Yanks, it’s worth remembering they wouldn’t have won a title in 2009 without him carrying the offense that October, and that alone made A-Rod worth the cost.
Judge is going to start carrying the A-Rod burden, even if he is a million times more popular and less controversial, until he has a similar breakthrough postseason.
Nevertheless, adding another No. 1-type starter in Rodon could go a long way toward giving the Yankees an alternate path to winning it all as well.
It’s worth remembering the Astros dominated in the postseason primarily because of their depth of high-level pitching, shutting down the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees, and finally the hot-hitting Philadelphia Phillies.
Adding Rodon, who racked up a league-best 12 strikeouts per nine innings last season with the Giants, would give the Yankees the capability of similar dominance.
Indeed, a rotation of Gerrit Cole, Rodon, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino would be as imposing as anything the Astros or anybody else might go into October worth next season.
Rodon, of course, won’t come cheap. Or without risk, based on his history of arm problems. But at age 30 coming off an injury-free and brilliant season, he’s worth the gamble for a team like the Yankees that might still be one key piece away from a championship, even with Judge back in the fold.
In short, signing Judge allowed Steinbrenner to free himself from villain status with the fans. But if he really wants to get back in their good graces, going the extra mile to sign Rodon is the way to do it.