Aaron Judge certainly picked the right time to have a career year, setting the American League record with 62 home runs and leading all of baseball with 11.4 fWAR — four wins better than Manny Machado in second — as he heads into free agency. That kind of overall performance, which includes the ability to play center field, has set Judge up for what most believe will be at least a $300 million deal. Some think he could even eclipse Mike Trout‘s record of $360 million.
As Jon Heyman reports, however, getting to that level could push the Yankees out of contention for their superstar. The Yanks reportedly don’t want to go to $40 million AAV and definitely don’t want to approach $400 million total, which a fierce bidding war could produce. Heyman writes that the Yankees see the Giants as their main competition, with the Dodgers and Cubs possibly lurking in the wings.
Given everything else about the expectations Judge and his camp have for his next deal, though, it’s really hard for me to see the Cubs being in the mix. Heyman noted how the Dodgers prefer shorter deals at higher AAV, and we’ve heard the same thing over and over from the Cubs. GM Carter Hawkins specifically mentioned doing deals that help now without hampering the team “five, six, seven years down the road.”
While Judge would most certainly address the Cubs’ need for power and a solid outfield glove, he’s not going to be satisfied with a four-year deal. At the same time, he’s entering his age-31 season and a team can’t reasonably count on him to continue his elite production for another five years or more. This seems like the exact situation the Cubs are trying to avoid this winter, though it’s possible the Judge saga could still impact them.
Let’s say the Giants actually do end up landing the massive slugger. That would make Mike Yastrzemski expendable and could open up the possibility of the Cubs trading for him to bolster their outfield depth. Jed Hoyer is still going to need to make at least one much bigger addition in order to boost the offense to the point where the Cubs can blow teams out more frequently, but taking advantage of the Judge fallout would be a good example of intelligent spending.
This is all hypothetical, of course, and the number of moving parts decreases the likelihood of this specific situation coming to pass as laid out here. But if we zoom out a little and take a look at the Cubs’ general strategy, I think we’ll see them doing a better job than in previous years of targeting players who provide more bang for the buck.
That doesn’t mean they’ll try to be cheap, because that’s backfired badly in the past. I look at a player like Yan Gomes, who got the second-biggest contract the Cubs have awarded to a position player since Jason Heyward. Gomes did a great job of working with a pitching staff in flux that had to rely on a lot of new and/or inexperienced arms throughout the season. Rather than shopping for a bargain or paying a premium, the Cubs found a guy who fit their needs almost perfectly.
I do believe Hoyer and Hawkins will invest a good deal of money this winter, the majority of which will go to one or two players near the top of the market. The real work, however, will come as they figure out the best way to supplement those moves.