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NEW YORK – The cold-hearted reality is that Yankees and Aaron Judge never got close to reaching a contract extension, which formally ended Friday morning before the Yankees’ season opener against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees were willing to make Judge the second-highest paid outfielder on an average salary in baseball, offering a seven-year, $213.5 million contract extension.
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Judge wanted close to the 10-year, $360 million contract extension that center fielder Mike Trout received from the Los Angeles Angels.
Sorry, the Yankees finally told Judge and his representatives, if you want to finish your career with the Yankees, this is a fair offer.
But if you want to be paid like Trout, the Yankees told him, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
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We’ll ultimately see who’s bluffing, but the Yankees kept waiting for Judge’s price tag to drop, and it didn’t.
Now, we’ll see this winter if someone is willing to pay it when he hits free agency.
All eyes will be on the San Francisco Giants, who tried to acquire Giancarlo Stanton in a trade with the Miami Marlins before the 2018 season, only for Stanton to exercise his no-trade clause. They tried again for another All-Star outfielder in Bryce Harper in the spring of 2019, only to be snubbed for the Philadelphia Phillies.
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The Yankees and Judge will meet again one more time, but only in an arbitration hearing, with the Yankees offering $17 million while Judge countered with $21 million.
Otherwise, Judge said, they will talk again after the season, when 29 other teams can also bid on him, insisting that Friday was the deadline.
“This is the deadline,’’ Judge said. “I don’t want to be a distraction during the year. We got so many things to focus on. A lot of good things are happening here. I don’t want it to be a distraction for my teammates.’’
Yankees GM Brian Cashman says that he’ll leave the door open for contract negotiations during the season, but doesn’t anticipate further long-term talks until the off-season.
While disappointed they couldn’t reach a deal, Cashman made it clear there are no hard feelings, and will make every attempt to sign him as a free agent.
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“Obviously, our intent is to have Aaron Judge stay as a New York Yankee as we move forward,’’ Cashman said, “and I know that it’s his intent as well. He's been a great Yankee. He's an impactful player. He's one of the game's great players.’’
The Yankees’ final offer, averaging $30.5 million a year, Cashman said, would have started in 2023, keeping him in the organization through the age of 38. Now, they’ll find out this winter whether their offer was fair or if another team believes he’s worth much more in free agency.
“When free agency starts,’’ Cashman says, “maybe that'll determine what is real market value would be because we certainly couldn't agree at this stage on on a contract extension. … Our hope is that at some point, we'll find that common ground that we both feel comfortable with.
“We look forward to him leading this team this year, in another effort to climb the mountain, and obviously re-engage when that opportunity exists.’’
Certainly, Judge is betting on himself. He is one of the game’s greatest players when he’s healthy. Yet, from 2018-2020, he was able to play in only 62% of the Yankees’ games.
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“I feel he's in a great spot mentally and at peace,’’ Cashman says. “He’s conveyed to me that he doesn't want to be anywhere else, which is is a good thing. But at the same time, he knows that there's no guarantees.’’
The Yankees are convinced that Judge, the heart and soul of the club, also won’t let the pending free agency affect his performance, or clubhouse leadership.
“He’s the ultimate teammate you know,’’ Yankee manager Aaron Boone said. “He's probably the biggest leader in that room. And he's an amazing player that wants to go out and be great and wants nothing more than to be a part of the championship club. ..
“I truly believe that will not have an effect on him. He’s just too solid a makeup player that it's not going to be an issue.’’
Now, the Yankees will have to convince the fans of it, knowing that every time Judge goes into a hot streak, or slumped, his contract will be splashed on the back page of the tabloids and the hot topic on talk shows.
“I don’t feel defeated,’’ Cashman said. “I think people will have opinions one way or the other. It's part of the business of baseball, it's in sports, and it's not as easy because things like this are more public and scrutinized and dissected.’’
And yes, the end of the Judge contract talks provided a cruel reminder.
“There’s no loyalty in the game,’’ says teammate Anthony Rizzo.
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Rizzo, you see, also went through contract talks last spring with the Chicago Cubs about a long-term contract extension. He rejected the Cubs’ five-year, $70 million offer. He wound up being traded three months later to the Yankees.
“When you separate [playing], and the business side, and take your heart out of it,’’ Rizzo said, “that’s the tough part.’’
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY Sports: Aaron Judge rejects the Yankees’ 7-year, $213.5 million offer, set for free agency this winter
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