Good for Aaron Judge, who gave the Yankees a cold-hearted stiff-arm only to lure them back for more, and secure by almost any measure the biggest payday in baseball history. And good for the Yankees, who retain the best attraction for their ever-valuable TV network.
So, now what?
New York’s Judge signing, viewed as something of a bare minimum by title-hungry Yankee fans, will create rogue waves throughout the industry, even if the impressive nine-year, $360 million deal to stay was a largely expected outcome. With the free agent market moving at something resembling warp speed – five of the top 10 free agents and 10 of the top 20 are off the board – the talent pool is thinning, but the ranks of desperate teams are not.
Who needs to get busy, in a hurry? A look at the five teams still needing an offseason home run in the wake of the Judge signing:
Giants: Still time to go big
Look at it like this, Giants fans: You didn’t get played so much as you forced the Yankees to dislodge a few more pennies.
Certainly, the loss of Judge – exurban Bay Area native, power hitter extraordinaire – will sting. And the significant need to lure a player with box office power remains for a franchise whose ballpark was the House That Barry Built, whose fairly recent dynasty was forged on the back of Buster Posey, yet whose current iteration is a largely vanilla stew of analytics-driven men in laundry.
Put simply: The Giants won 107 games in 2021 – and could not outdraw the Colorado Rockies in 2022.
With an effective if not totally dominant pitching staff in place, it seems painfully obvious that a big play for shortstop Carlos Correa is the only move, especially when so many teams are scrambling for whatever crumbs remain on the pitching market. A Correa-Crawford double-play combo would be a lovely way to send out the respected Crawford in 2022.
And ensure a superstar in his prime will lure a few fans back to China Basin – just like Bonds, just like Posey.
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Red Sox: This is your wake-up call
No, the Red Sox weren’t directly involved in the Judge sweepstakes, perhaps if only as a late, detached player if for some reason he loitered on the market. Now, the franchise that traded Mookie Betts and now seems primed to finish second on some very mid free agents runs the risk of getting locked out altogether.
Judge-to-the-Yankees is not ideal on many fronts. Obviously, the Yankee lineup still has a heart in it, and ensures the AL East will be a punishing place to play. But the direct impact is moreso that the Giants did not get Judge, significantly raising the chances they make a play for one of three elite shortstops on the market.
And that domino effect means multiple suitors will come hard after Boston’s own Xander Bogaerts.
So far, publicly, GM Chaim Bloom has been about as coy on Bogaerts as Yankee counterpart Brian Cashman was on Judge. Lines of communications open. No dramatic meetings until a reported summit on Wednesday. Agent Scott Boras is far from counting the Red Sox out, save for the 70-year-old uber agent dropping one of his vaunted Dad Jokes on them.
The Bloom era has been marked by a willingness to finish second in the name of sustainability, though the adds of relievers Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin are helpful. Prices are spiraling out of control. Oh, and that reminds us: Old reliable starter Nathan Eovaldi just might surpass the $68 million he re-signed for four years ago – and you still need at least two starting pitchers.
In short, current conditions and Bloom’s track record are very poorly aligned. For a club in a massive market coming off a last-place finish, retaining Bogaerts should remain imperative.
Cubs: Nope, not good enough
The franchise that’s turned Wrigleyville into its own little mixed-use revenue-generating hellscape no longer has any excuses for their penurious habits, the most offensive their non-tender of slugger Kyle Schwarber two winters ago. They jumped into this year’s pool with a four-year, $68 million deal for Jameson Taillon, which pairs nicely with Marcus Stroman’s addition on a three-year, $71 million deal a year ago.
The natives don’t care.
They’ve seen Tom Ricketts’ act and watched as a quintet of charismatic superstars – from Anthony Rizzo to Willson Contreras – were shipped out of town or allowed to leave. Additionally, while the Cubs can field a representative rotation, provided Kyle Hendricks returns to form, the lineup remains a largely unproven bunch, even if a one-year bet on Cody Bellinger is a nice upside play with a guaranteed upgrade in center field.
The situation screams for a franchise shortstop.
Sure, fans may not stage a revolt and storm the 23,000-square foot DraftKings sports book opening next year at Wrigley. But if you don’t try, the centerpiece of your real estate gambit – the baseball team, remember? – will look like an afterthought.
Yankees: Keep lifting
Nice job. But let’s not forget, the purpose of this off-season was not to hold serve, but to get better after an October that proved this club was nowhere near good enough to win a championship.
Getting Judge back in pinstripes is a huge deal and gives the club a dose of “True Yankeeness” that’s been missing in the near decade since Derek Jeter retired. But the AL East is only getting more challenging as the Blue Jays continue through their peak years, as the Orioles stay on the come-up and the Rays do that thing they do.
The team has already lost Taillon from the rotation. Its lineup still looks way too dependent on bouncebacks from older guys (Can DJ LeMahieu stay healthy? Josh Donaldson not disappear?) and the development of youngsters like Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe.
And lest we forget, Judge’s $40 million per year is scarcely adding money to the books: It’s just $3 million more than what Judge himself and reliever Aroldis Chapman made last year. Maybe going big on a shortstop creates a personnel and financial logjam.
In that case, why not blow the field away for Carlos Rodon, fill around Judge in the lineup, and tell opponents to come at Gerrit Cole, Rodon and Nestor Cortes in October?
There’s plenty of ways to build a juggernaut. The biggest piece is in place. Time to scale up.
Dodgers: Stuck in the middle
Manager Dave Roberts didn’t mince words in his winter meetings media session: I need a center fielder.
The gap suddenly looked palpable when Bellinger’s departure was sealed. Now, a team that one year ago paired Trea Turner and Corey Seager up the middle, with Bellinger behind them in center, faces uncertainty at all three of those positions.
Sure, they can turn shortstop over to Gavin Lux and time-share their way to glory at second with one more year out of Max Muncy and friends. Unless they go for it with Rodon, the upgrades to an already decent pitching staff are minimal. As for center field?
Right now that’s the domain of Trayce Thompson and maybe Chris Taylor. Certainly, there’s other options than simply going out and giving Brandon Nimmo something close to $150 million.
But as the dominoes fall, and a trade market tightens in a winter where a lot of teams fancy themselves a contender, that looks like the clearest and most prudent path to get better.
And the options are dwindling for everyone, particularly now that the biggest one is off the board.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: With Aaron Judge off the board, these five MLB teams need to act fast