Aaron Judge’s free agency decisions dominate MLB winter meetings


SAN DIEGO — Around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, just as San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler was finishing his winter meetings with reporters, word broke in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt that the star of this year’s free agent market his mind had been invented. It started with a tweet quickly withdrawnsuggesting that Aaron Judge was playing out the New York Yankees’ worst-case scenario by signing with the Giants.

It stood despite repeated assurances from Giants CEO Larry Baer, ​​cornered in the hotel driveway, that he had “nothing to report,” though Kapler insisted he had heard nothing — though he admitted somewhat shyly, with reporters having spoken without looking at his cell phone. When the sun went down here on a cloudy day, nothing was official.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he was just out of the shower when the rumor hit him. He called general manager Brian Cashman, who told him that to his knowledge nothing had changed. A few minutes later it was his turn to meet with reporters, whom he greeted with a smile and a joke about the random timing.

“It was an awkward hour,” he admitted.

Elsewhere it was hectic. Reporters in the lobby checked for charter flights to San Diego from Tampa, where Judge Tom Brady welcomed Monday night at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game. They found one that landed in the late afternoon. The baseball news of the day — including first baseman Josh Bell, who agreed to a two-year deal with the Cleveland Guardians, and left-hander Andrew Heaney, who agreed to sign with the Texas Rangers on a two-year deal — seemed quaint in comparison.

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Judge has been at the center of the baseball world for most of the season, from the moment he turned down the Yankees’ extension offer in April through his summer of 62 home runs to the night the Yankees’ season ended when the soon-to-be World Series was held champions Houston Astros swept them into the American League Championship Series.

For the Yankees, Judge was the foundation to build on this offseason, not a prize to be won. He was the AL MVP, and rightly so: no baseball player had as much influence on his team’s fortunes on the field as Judge, as he sometimes single-handedly bolstered their lineup on the course. He would be the Giants’ biggest star since Buster Posey – maybe since Barry Bonds.

So the day in San Diego belonged to Judge, who neither started the day in San Diego nor appeared to have made a decision when MLB’s first draft lottery – won by the Pittsburgh Pirates – made a gentle attempt to change the subject. Agent Scott Boras held his once-in-a-lifetime media scrum. He’s usually the man with the big stars at these meetings, and he’s got a few – but none of them are judges.

One of those clients was Cody Bellinger, the enigmatic 2019 National League MVP who was not offered a contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He agreed to a one-year, $17.5 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Giants were interested in adding Bellinger to their outfield, people familiar with their mindset said. But if they were to lose to a high-profile outfielder on Tuesday, one could assume they would rather have him. (They signed outfielder Mitch Haniger to a three-year, $43.5 million deal, ESPN reported, but that wouldn’t stop them from snapping Judge, too.)

Another Boras client and elite outfielder, former New York Met Brandon Nimmo, met with teams in San Diego this week. But his fate seemed tied to Judge’s as well.

“There is an expectation that certain clubs are waiting to move to the next step depending on the outcome,” Boras told reporters.

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Would the Giants need an outfielder if they lost to Judge? If not, many teams have room for a fast, stable, top-of-the-line racquet like Nimmo’s – if they’re willing to shell out what Boras needs for him. Even the Tampa Bay Rays, not known for prolific spending, have expressed interest, according to a person familiar with Nimmo’s market.

So Nimmo remained on the list of top-tier free agents yet to be signed — some of which could be backup offensive additions for the Yankees or Giants if Judge is missed. Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, catcher Willson Contreras and left Carlos Rodón remained unsigned late Tuesday afternoon, although right Taijuan Walker agreed to a deal with multiple reports, with the Philadelphia Phillies adding pitching depth a day after star shortstop was snapped Trea Turner. The extent to which all of their markets depended on Judge will be clear in hindsight. But the level of speculation surrounding her on Tuesday was tiny in comparison.

No one’s decision could set the baseball world ablaze like Judge did on Tuesday, when segments of baseball fandom rooted against the Yankees desperately believed that where there’s smoke there’s fire — and the Yankees prayed there was was a false alarm.

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