SAN DIEGO — Brian Cashman’s sentences wound and ran on, doubled back and petered out. The New York Yankees general manager had spent a sleepless Tuesday night at baseball’s winter meetings texting Aaron Judge, checking in with owner Hal Steinbrenner (who was calling Judge) and texting Judge’s agent. And waiting.
“We haven’t officially landed any planes. We have some maybe lined up to be brought down, but there’s a lot more planes out there circling and hopefully air traffic control …” Cashman said before abandoning the metaphor. “I’m not Scott Boras.”
The deal, for all intents and purposes, is done: The Yankees are bringing back their most prominent and popular homegrown star since Derek Jeter, and they are giving him the highest annual salary of any position player in history.
Judge turned the Yankees down on a seven-year, $213.5 million extension in April, betting on his own ability that he would cash in this offseason. After winning the MVP and smashing an AL-record 62 home runs, he accepted a deal that will pay him almost $10 million more annually. Somehow, whether Judge wanted to stay all along and bluffed the Yankees into a bigger offer or whether the star was really considering other pitches, Cashman was unfazed by Wednesday morning. He was just happy to hang on to the latest in a long line of franchise legends.
“Clearly, I’ve never had to negotiate or try to retain somebody that just broke Roger Maris’s American League home run record,” Cashman said.
The Yankees’ contingent did most of that negotiating on the phone, though Judge arrived in San Diego late Tuesday evening.
Cashman said he didn’t know for sure Judge would be in town, let alone where to find him. As it happened, Judge was meeting with the San Diego Padres, who were making a last-minute push after missing out on shortstop Trea Turner a day earlier.
Judge, a northern California native, was also a target for his hometown team, the San Francisco Giants, who were also open about their pursuit. But the number of teams making a credible push for Judge was small. For the Giants, Judge would have been a dramatic acquisition. For the Padres, he would have qualified as a welcome surprise.
But for the Yankees, Judge was indispensable, the necessary first step in an offseason that can now, in some ways, really begin. Judge was the biggest name of a position player market that included stars who could headline any other offseason — including Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Nimmo, all of whom represent credible backup plans for anyone who wanted Judge and missed.
With Judge off the board, the ice began to break on the final day of the meetings. The St. Louis Cardinals agreed to a five-year deal with catcher Willson Contreras (worth a reported $87.5 million) to become the successor to franchise pillar Yadier Molina. The Boston Red Sox reportedly were near a deal to keep Bogaerts, their longtime shortstop who opted out of his deal this offseason to become a free agent. The Giants, Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers seemed like reasonable landing spots for Correa.
The Red Sox didn’t cede all of the headlines to their longtime AL East rivals. Shortly after word spread about Judge, Boston reportedly reached a two-year deal with closer Kenley Jansen for $32 million. Wednesday night, the Red Sox agreed to a five-year deal with Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, according to a person familiar with the situation. The agreement will pay the 29-year-old $90 million over five years and will cost the Red Sox $15.4 million in a posting fee.
The Yankees, meanwhile, seemed likely to need more pieces around Judge — a starter or two, some bullpen help and outfield depth — some of which could be easier for them to find via trade. But they will not pursue those pieces from a place of desperation.
“It’s an awkward time, especially being here at the winter meetings where things speed up and you probably think a decision’s coming soon. It definitely made for an uncomfortable day,” said Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, who said he called Judge on Tuesday night, went to bed and woke up to a friend’s text about the reports before calling Cashman to figure out what was happening.
“Well, there’s nothing for us to say,” Cashman interrupted as they both chuckled.
“I did call [Cashman] to get some hypothetical …” Boone explained. He didn’t finish the thought, finally giving up on the ruse and allowing a smile to say the rest.
The New York Mets and left-hander José Quintana agreed to a two-year, $26 million contract, adding another veteran to the rotation. The Chicago Cubs added Jameson Taillon to their rotation, agreeing to a four-year contract with the right-hander worth roughly $68 million.