Aaron Judge’s free agency: Ranking all 30 MLB teams as potential landing spots as Yankees star enters offseason
Aaron Judge may have last played with the Yankees on Sunday, as New York lost Game 4 of the American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros, completing a sweep. Judge is coming off one of the most impressive offensive seasons in league history. He hit 62 homers, breaking Roger Maris’ single-season records for the Yankees franchise and the American League, and threatened for the AL Triple Crown. He will likely be rewarded for his incredible season in the form of the AL Most Valuable Player award once all the ballots are counted later this fall.
Judge will be rewarded in another way this winter, as he is on course to become the most-wanted free agent of the offseason. You may have heard that he turned down the Yankees’ last extension offer in the spring, a deal that would have earned him more than $210 million. The decision to bet on himself looks brilliant now, and it begs a tantalizing question: who could he end up signing with before next season?
At CBS Sports, we’re nothing if not the messy kind, so below we’ve prioritized and ranked all 30 teams based on their perceived likelihood of signing Judge. It should be noted that this is more of an art than a science and this exercise is for entertainment purposes only. In other words, don’t go too high or too low in response to your team’s placement.
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With the fine print out of the way, let’s get to categorizing things.
Level 1: No question, no how
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
29. Oakland Athletics
28. Miami Marlins
27. Kansas City Royals
26. Tampa Bay Rays
25. Cincinnati Reds
Again, the judge denied an extension that would have earned him more than $210 million. He is certain to receive even more this winter. Can you imagine the Royals or Athletics handing out such a contract? Of course, you can’t; not in this version of the simulation. We would, however, pay a small fee to watch a livestream where Pirates general manager Ben Cherington pitches the idea to owner Bob Nutting.
Level 2: Swing and miss
24. Detroit Tigers
23. Washington Nationals
22. Baltimore Orioles
21. Milwaukee Brewers
20. Colorado Rockies
19. Los Angeles Angels
Neither of these teams looks likely to 1) spend the necessary money or 2) make the playoffs. Given that Judge will have his pick of teams that can and will do both, there’s no point wasting a lot of time weighing the respective merits of this group. Admittedly, the idea of Judge linking up with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani is tempting, but the Angels seem more inclined to trade Ohtani before or after a sale.
Level 3: missing element
18. Arizona Diamonds
17. Chicago White Sox
16. Minnesota Twins
15. Cleveland Guardians
The White Sox, Twins and Guardians will likely fight for the American League Central crown again next season. None of them seem likely to splurge on a player of Judge’s caliber – although the Twins did sign Carlos Correa last offseason, so maybe anything is possible. The Diamondbacks are a team on the rise, but they have an outfield full of youngsters, which suggests they should spend their money elsewhere.
Level 4: On the Warning Trail
14. Philadelphia Phillies
13. San Diego Padres
12. Seattle Mariners
11. Toronto Blue Jays
10. Houston Astros
9. Atlanta Braves
7. Cardinals of St. Louis
6. Chicago Cubs
If you told us that one of these teams got involved in Judge, we wouldn’t be shocked; we just don’t count on them to do a serious race because of this or that factor. The Padres and Rangers have made several notable additions to their rosters over the past year. We don’t know if either has room for the type of agreement the judge will require. The Mariners, Blue Jays, Astros and Braves all seem more likely to focus on keeping or expanding theirs — the Braves, for example, need to figure out whether or not they’ll keep Dansby Swanson in town. The Cardinals were in the running for Juan Soto, suggesting they might have an appetite for another big hitter. Would they pony up for the judge? We are skeptical. Then there are the Cubs, who will likely focus their energy (and money) on upgrading at shortstop.
5. Boston Red Sox
We’re also skeptical of ranking the Red Sox so well. Chaim Bloom has shown little willingness to spend, and it would seem odd to trade Mookie Betts to turn around a few winters later and sign Judge. Plus, they need to figure out what they’re doing with the left side of their infield, with shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers. However, there are only so many teams that can realistically reach the judge’s price, and the Red Sox just happen to be one of those teams.
Level 5: Favorites
Finally we made it, we made it to the final four, or the teams that we believe have the best chance of signing Judge this winter. Let’s dive into it.
4. San Francisco Giants
A front office source mocked us for listing the Giants as a favorable landing spot for Judge, but hear us out on this one. The Giants have made past plays for Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper, suggesting they have the appetite for a midrange thumper. Much of San Francisco’s existing core is aging toward retirement or decline, leaving Farhan Zaidi in a position where it’s high time to import a new face to the franchise. The Giants will forgo several long-term commitments this winter and next, giving them the financial freedom to make a splash. And hey, it might not help that Judge played college about three hours from Oracle Park, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps this source will prove to be correct; we just think the Giants should soon become a serious dark horse for a top free agent.
3. New York Foods
We’re not quite required by law to include the Mets at the top of this list and similar lists, but we’re closer than not. The Mets, for their part, have shown no real aversion to spending as much money as they want under Steve Cohen. Even so, Billy Eppler will have some major internal business to handle this offseason, as ace Jacob deGrom and closest Edwin Diaz can both hit the open market. Would the Mets really be willing to keep these two and judge sign? Maybe so, but we are skeptical.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are similar to the Mets in that they’ve shown they’re ready to splurge on the stars and have a ton of internal business to deal with by the time the judges’ draw begins. . Los Angeles has several huge contracts coming off the books this offseason, including those belonging to Trea Turner and David Price. The Dodgers could free up even more money by not submitting Cody Bellinger, if they choose to do so. In theory, that would create a need for another big, athletic puncher, well, we’ve heard of a guy who might make sense.
1. New York Yankees
And yet, we have to pick the Yankees as Judge’s potential top contender. Yes, it’s the coward’s choice, and yes, they have so far failed to lock up Judge. Several factors at play could compel them to feel a greater sense of urgency when the two sides talk to each other again this winter. On the one hand, Brian Cashman must know that his team would be much worse off without Judge. On the other hand, the Yankees rarely let their hometown stars go in free agency (Robinson Canó is the exception), and it would be hard to let Judge walk after overturning Maris’ record. Then there’s the Mets factor: can you imagine the vibe around the Yankees if they let Judge go wild across town? Cashman and the Yankees may have the stomach to take it all, but we’re sticking with the starter until there’s a reason to count them out.