The current trend with free agents in Major League Baseball does not favor Aaron Judge, the New York Yankees' slugger and face of the team. The big man has a problem in that he has not yet reached the arbitration years (2020 will be his first) and cannot hit the open market until 2023. By then he will be 31-years-old. If he continues his star pace through the years, he will be limited by the length of any free agent deal. The Yankees, however, have no urgent need to speed up the process since he is under the team's control for at least four more seasons.
These thoughts coalesced upon hearing of Nolan Arenado's new extension with the Rockies. Arenado is a year older than Judge but had the benefit of starting younger in his career. That gave the Rockies a bit more urgency to tie up the face of their organization for the foreseeable future.
Aaron Judge probably is not built this way, but it would be understandable to see him whistling ruefully over the money that Arenado is getting. After all, Judge has compiled 13.2 fWAR over the last two seasons even though he missed a good chunk of 2018. Arenado, in comparison, compiled 11.7 fWAR in that same period. Judge has also had great numbers in the post season while Arenado has not. But Judge has no leverage with so much team control remaining.
If Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar continue to advance their young games, they will be in much better positions when their times come. They started so young that their greatness will be rewarded. Gary Sanchez is in a similar position to Judge, but Sanchez has to prove that 2018 was just a ditch in a long road. Sanchez cannot even get to a deserving point of view until he Lysol's what happened last season.
Aaron Judge's position is the exact one where MLB players have a problem. The days of a 30-year-old getting eight or more years are over and will not come back. Teams do not want to speculate on a player beyond his 35th birthday. And if that is what the numbers say, who can blame them? There have been enough of those foolish deals spattered over history: Pujols and A-Rod are just two who come to mind.
From a player's standpoint, if the free agent game has changed to a younger mindset, then the players cannot keep playing for free in their early careers. Yes, $1.2 million over two years is a lot of money by our mortal standards. But, it is peanuts in baseball's expense model. Consider that Aaron Judge has given the Yankees $118 million of performance value for a three year paycheck of about $2 million. That is a steal and Judge will probably not have the ability to recoup what he has provided.
Aaron Hicks seemingly read the tea leaves and signed a bargain of a deal for the Yankees in his extension. While I am not as high on Hicks as others, if he continues on his current track and stays healthy, he will blow away that deal in favor of the team. But Hicks had more leverage than Judge has.
Will the Yankees buy out the remainder of Aaron Judge's pre-free agent years? And if so, what would that look like? Again, there is no real urgency on their part to even consider it at this stage of Judge's career.
And so Judge has a problem. He must continue to prove that he is this big of a star, wait patiently and get decent raises through the arbitration process (once that even starts) and hope he can get a four or five-year deal on the back end that makes up for what he essentially gave for free. I am not sure if this model is fair for any players who start at an age when Aaron Judge did or whether this only applies to superstars. Either way, the odds are against Aaron Judge ever seeing Arenado-type money even though he has been a more valuable player.