This sort of stems from this article from Michael Baumann of FanGraphs but I want to expand the scope to the entire American League East. There’s one way to directly impact the Yankees and potentially shake up the division, and it’s for one of their rivals to sign Aaron Judge to a contract.
Nearly every team in the East had a .500 winning percentage last year. Three teams, including the Yankees, made the playoffs last year. The Orioles were actually surprisingly close to the playoffs with a young lineup to boot. With Judge producing 11.4 fWAR last year, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say each of their win totals would improve, even if it isn’t an 11 win swing like Judge’s WAR total implies.
The purpose for these teams would be to leap frog the Yankees and stay out of the Wild Card round. The Blue Jays and Rays were both eliminated in their Wild Card rounds and if we’re going further, the Houston Astros probably benefited from playing the absolute minimum amount of games (sweeping the ALDS and ALCS, respectively) when it came time to make pitching decisions in the Wold Series. The Yankees survived their ALDS match-up but were dragged to 5 games and between injuries, were running on fumes in the ALCS.
If we look back as well, there were points where the Yankees offense was solely driven by Judge due to injuries or lackluster performance from those that were healthy. Anthony Rizzo was their second best hitter by FanGraphs’ offensive runs and things get dire after that. Without Judge, the Yankees are potentially running Giancarlo Stanton out in the field, something that given his injury history is not ideal. It would also mean more plate appearances for Aaron Hicks whose batting line looks like it’s fallen off the cliff and will only get worse. It destabilizes their lineup while improving your team, to me a no-brainer.
Toronto Blue Jays
This one is the most obvious to me, other than the Orioles, in terms of a direct positive impact. Alas, the realism of this deal took a hit when they made (what I consider) a salary driven decision to trade Teoscar Hernández and his $14 million salary for two relievers. That signals to me that the Blue Jays don’t want to push for a corner outfielder who will cost at least $33 million per year.
But let’s imagine that wasn’t the case. Having Judge with Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and George Springer? That’s a pretty solid top four. Springer has gotten hurt in past seasons, so Judge can shift over to center field (at least in the first couple years of a long contract) in a real pinch. This means that Whit Merrifield isn’t your starting right fielder, as Roster Resource currently shows. That’s an overall improvement from Merrifield, and even if Judge only hits 100 games played due to injuries (something he’s done twice early in his career), you’re still looking at a floor of 4–5 WAR. Most teams would take that.
Close second, maybe even first to the Blue Jays due to their meager payroll total right now. This is the time to invest in the team. Many of their young core players like Adley Rustchman and Gunnar Henderson are pre-arbitration, so signing some higher end players while they’re affordable can speed up the contention process. It also shifts some players so that someone like Anthony Santander can maybe be a full time DH or platoon left fielder (though his defensive metrics aren’t great compared to right field).
It wouldn’t turn the Orioles into an immediate contender. They’d still need to address the infield, which other than Henderson and Rustchman, is light hitting, plus pitching but it would be a sign that they’re ready to compete.
Boston Red Sox
This definitely won’t happen, but maybe not for the reason your thinking. We only have to look back a few years, but when the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts, it was due to not wanting to pay for a long term contract. If they sign Aaron Judge, then what was even the point of trading Betts in the first place? Sure, maybe you can say they were extracting prospect value and turning Betts into multiple good young players. Except the players they got aren’t much more than average starters or are still in the minors.
The Red Sox are on a diet of financial discipline, even if it means a fifth place finish in the east. You can’t tell me fans want *checks notes, sighs* Rob Refsnyder playing right field over Aaron Judge, but that looks like what they’re getting.
Tampa Bay Rays
I don’t know how to emphasize how small the chances are, but hell would freeze over first before the Rays spent on a free agent like Judge. The type of long term contract they’ll give out is to players like Evan Longoria and Wander Franco, players that are already in the system and willing to take a discount for the money right now rather than risk it all for a larger pay day in the future.
Manuel Margot is there current starting right fielder with an AAV of $9.5 million, but he split time with Brett Phillips and a large Rolodex of others for the Rays. I’d rather have Judge than a nameless amalgamation of players, but that’s not the Rays way. It’s to hold players until arbitration and then ship them off for a prospect you don’t know but will be worth 2.1 fWAR in the hyper specific role that the Rays internal models and algorithms (and scouts) project for them until they too reach arbitration and we repeat this cycle again. But hey, at least you lose in the world series in the few times you actually make it!
The point of all this is to say, the American League East is extremely competitive and a player of Judge’s caliber can tilt the scales in favor of whoever signs him. It’s why the Yankees should prioritize re-signing him and their rivals should try to steal him away from them.