Of course, it had to be Aaron Judge. On the eve of his arbitration hearing. A night when we might have allowed early doubts about the legitimacy of the team’s record to creep in. The MVP favorite, the face of the franchise, the local hero delivered as only he could.
Less than 24 hours later, we learned that he and the Yankees would avoid their arbitration hearing, settling on a $19 million deal for 2022 with additional incentive-based escalators. We could be glad to know that both sides would avoid the acrimony that characterizes this procedure, with team officials trashing their players to avoid paying them a few million dollars – something Yankees fans are familiar with. And yet, I still couldn’t get rid of that feeling of disgust at the way the Yankees handled that scenario.
Should it come to the eleventh hour, the threat of defamation hovering over the day? Then I remembered that was how the Yankees did business. If you’ve followed the Yankees in the past year, you’ll recognize this as par for the course. So yeah, it was always going to play out like that. But that doesn’t mean that’s how it should be.
The very fact that he even got to this point all over refusing to pay the judge another $4 million is repugnant to me. Again, they partially kicked off the 2021 season, opting to prioritize resetting the tax rate over setting up the most competitive roster possible, all to save an estimated $9 million in pay taxes this year. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at all.
I also found myself disgusted that it took moments before the arbitration hearing for an agreement to be reached, almost as if the Yankees were playing chicken with their superstar. This cutting-edge mentality the Yankees use in negotiations with the face of their franchise is nothing new. They waited until the last day of spring training to present Judge with a contract extension offer, as if pressing him at the last second to prevent any sort of coordinated counterattack by his team.
Then came the strategic leaks of contract terms – one I freely admit was a fair offer – in an attempt to turn fan opinion against the star outfielder. The content of these leaks is particularly unpleasant. When you have media lackeys using words like “Judge Aaron gets his first award betting on himself,” and “Aaron Judge turned down a $19 million settlement offer from the Yankees and is instead aim for victory in refereeing(emphasis mine), this sets up a player versus team dichotomy from which only one winner can emerge. It gives the impression that the player comes before the team, that he is somehow greedy, that player-team interactions are a zero-sum game, and that God forbids the player to be on the winning side.
This is the kind of behavior we expect to see baseball clutching at the clutches of vulture capitalism, obsessed with extracting every drop of added value at the expense of the long-term health of the sport and its players. The owners are happy to alienate their fans by selling players and threatening to shift the franchise to a tax base ready to foot the bulk of the bill for a new stadium, all because they’ve decided the The short-term gain of pocketing the salary savings outweighs whatever profit that might be made from commissioning a competitive ball club.
We’ve heard about the deplorable living conditions of minor leaguers, all in the name of saving money around the margins…which is insane considering underpaid young talent is the lifeblood which allows owners to have a constantly decreasing payroll. MLB’s failure to enforce its own rules in the international free agent market amounts to an implicit admission of the predatory practices of international player pipelines.
Everything is enough to make your blood boil. And yet, there is a part of me that comes out as optimistic as well. Seeing the fierce way the Yankees interact with their players, the fact that both sides can reach a compromise is heartening. This gives hope that similar common ground can be found in the most important negotiations in the future.
For the Yankees, seeing them increase their initial offer was pleasantly surprising. They are notorious for setting their assessment of a player in stone, refusing to change that position in all but the most extreme cases. Could this newfound willingness to meet Judge halfway portend similar behavior when his free agency comes around? Would they increase their offer again from their internal valuation, knowing how valuable Judge is to the club? I hope so.
On Judge’s side, I was admittedly shocked that he backtracked from his request to meet the Yankees in the middle. He talked about how he wants to play his whole career in the stripes; is this a sign that getting the best price in free agency really isn’t the only factor in play? Would he actually be willing to give the Yankees a hometown cut? (For the record, I strongly advocate that he sign the biggest contract possible. It’s more me asking, if the money is close, if it’s a sign that the judge would be willing to give up that extra year, or those extra few million dollars.)
Maybe I’m just getting ahead of myself — maybe it was just the most painless way for Judge and the Yankees to put this episode behind them and focus on this season. That being said, I didn’t expect either side to come to the compromise they did. It is for this reason that I allow myself to be optimistic about the future agreement.