Predicting the free-agent market is always tricky, especially more than a month before free agency even begins. Sometimes a big free agent signs early and sets the market; other time, the big names wait and wait and wait, depressing the market for everyone else.
Yankees slugger Aaron Judge will be the biggest name on this year’s free-agent market, coming off a season where he was worth more than 10 WAR and will likely win the American League MVP Award. He also has a very good chance to win the Triple Crown and set the AL record for home runs in a season.
So naturally, a lot of contending teams will be interested in signing Judge. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel polled a dozen baseball executives to get guesses on the size of Judge’s contract, along with predictions for where he might end up.
The contract guesses ranged from seven to 10 years and anywhere from $26.5 million to $43 million in average annual value. The range on overall contract value ranged from $259 million to $375 million.
That range kind of underscores how hard these things are to predict, and it emphasizes how important it is to take specific predictions with a big grain of salt.
With that said, here’s what McDaniel had to say about potential landing spots.
And even more interesting, of the nine respondents to project a team Judge will end up with, four said he will stay with the Yankees, two have him going to the Mets, two said the Giants and one said the Giants or Dodgers.
The Dodgers have the second-highest payroll in baseball (behind only the Mets) but also could have nearly $140 million coming off the books this year, if Trea Turner and Clayton Kershaw leave via free agency and Cody Bellinger is non-tendered.
With Walker Buehler’s Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers’ vaunted pitching depth is now down to a handful of good arms and some prospects, so I’d expect pitching to be a priority — but that’s a lot of potentially available payroll space for a team without a clear payroll ceiling.
McDaniel spends a lot of time talking about the things that might limit Judge’s market — age (going into his age 31 season), injury history (he’s missed significant time in three of his six seasons), and positional future (he’s the largest human alive and already plays a corner outfield spot). All of those factors play into why it seems crazy to think the Dodgers would consider giving Judge 10 years. Even at the shorter-term end of the spectrum, it’s hard to picture the Dodgers paying a guy with that profile through his age-37 season.
Judge is going to have a lot of demand this offseason. The Yankees don’t want to lose him, and the Mets would love to make a splash by stealing him from across town. The Giants are his hometown team and will be looking to make a splash after their most disappointing season in a long time.
It just seems extraordinarily unlikely that the Dodgers would outbid those teams.
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