In the end, it came down to being either Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano.
Aaron Judge correctly picked Jeter, agreeing to a nine-year, $360 million free-agent contract on Wednesday to remain a New York Yankee for life.
That’s what Jeter did, playing all 20 of his Hall-of-Fame seasons in pinstripes in Da Bronx.
For sure, there was temptation to bolt, just take the highest offer like Cano did when he went to Seattle for more loot. He got the extra bread, but it didn’t work out.
Judge — both the face of the Yankees and MLB, for that matter — was offered more money to sign with either the San Francisco Giants, his hometown team, or the always-spending loot San Diego Padres. Reportedly, they offered Judge $400 million for 10 years.
He chose neither.
Judge, 30, made a smart decision. He stayed right where he belongs and got paid handsomely for it, signing the largest free-agent contract in the history of baseball.
Judge will make $40 million a season, $4.5 million more than any other position player in MLB history. His $360 million package is the third-highest total value contract in MLB history.
And he deserves every penny. Last season, he led the Yankees to the American League East title. He won the AL MVP, hitting an AL-record 62 homers. He batted .311, second-best in the league, and led the league in RBI with 131.
It was a season for the ages.
“Whatever he gets is going to be astronomical, and he deserves it,” teammate Anthony Rizzo said before the deal was announced. “He bet on himself on the biggest stage, in the biggest market, and did it with ease.
“He should be rewarded as the highest-paid player in the game. He’s the gold standard.”
Judge belonged in NYC. He fits the city and the team. He’s on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career and it would be best to do it wearing the pinstripes and playing on the biggest stage and under the brightest lights in sports.
There’s the Yankees and everybody else.
Not everyone can perform under these circumstances. Judge has proven over and over that he was built for this concrete jungle, a place that can be hard and harsh when it comes to failure.
But this past season, Judge answered the bell and erased any doubt about the cloth he’s cut from.
At his age, old in baseball years, Judge turned down a seven-year, $213.5-million extension. Many thought he was crazy, given his injury history.
In 2018 and 2019, he played in no more than 112 games in a season. In the shortened 2020 season, Judge just played in just 28 of the 60 games.
This past season, Judge stayed healthy and raked at the plate the entire year.
The Yankees knew they had someone special, too. In his first at-bat as a Yankee, Judge homered at Yankee Stadium. He became a fan favorite almost overnight. In 2017, he won the AL Rookie of the Year and set the MLB record for most homers by a rookie with 52. Yankee fans love the long ball, and that’s Judge’s specialty.
He’s not just a great player, but a great person. He’s the perfect guy you want to build your organization around, the perfect guy you want to wear your uniform. He embraces the city, the fans, and most importantly, the history of the Yankees.
It means something to him to be linked with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Jeter.
It’s why the Yankees did something for Judge they never really did for an individual player, adding the Judge’s Chamber in the stands — where fans sit in a special section and wear robes and white wigs in his honor.
For sure, no one would have been mad had Judge decided he wanted to go back home to the Bay Area and play for the team that he grew up rooting for. And the Giants have won more World Series lately than the Yankees could even imagine.
Still, it’s not the Yankees. It’s not Da Bronx. And, he wouldn’t be wearing the pinstripes.
Now all that’s left is for Judge to be officially made the captain of the Yankees, just like Jeter was when he was the clear face of the franchise.
Judge made two huge decisions in 2022. He bet on himself. And he knows where he belongs. And in both cases, he won out. He’s the next Jeter and it fits him perfectly.