Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Just over a year ago, when word spread through the Yankees spring training complex in Tampa that the team had agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract extension with Luis Severino, the first blush of criticism fell on the pitcher and his agents.
Agents, rival executives and some players wondered how the young ace could settle for such a below-market deal.
Later in the month, when the team inked center fielder Aaron Hicks to a seven-year, $70 million deal, reaction was not quite as severe, but the consensus was that the Yankees had secured another steal.
Now both players are out due to Tommy John surgery. The Yankees gambled on two long-term deals, and so far have lost. Severino will contribute 12 regular season innings in the first two years of his deal, and the team isn't sure exactly when to expect Hicks.
You can't help but wonder if these twin traumas will make the Yankees skittish about committing to their next pressing extension candidate, Aaron Judge.
Judge's situation is different from the other two in that he brings the intangible as the face of the franchise, heir to Derek Jeter as a spiritual leader and possible future captain.
But take all that away and you have a player who has played 155, 112 and 102 games the last three seasons. His injury in 2018 was a broken wrist caused by a hit-by-pitch -- a fluke, in other words -- but he has also seen his young career impacted by oblique and shoulder injuries. He is currently out of spring training action with a shoulder issue.
This leads to a tough question, because Judge seems like such a fit in New York. But doesn't he present a long-term risk, especially if he's making superstar money into his 30s?
The Yankees have three years before Judge hits free agency, so this needn't be a front-burner concern. But it's with two years of team control remaining that discussion about a player's future with his club begins to intensify.
That's the situation that the Indians are in with Francisco Lindor, and the Cubs with Kris Bryant. The Red Sox waited until they had one season remaining with Mookie Betts, which impacted his value.
Expect talk of Judge's future to intensify after this year. Best case scenario for the Yankees and Judge, he enjoys an MVP-caliber season, plays 150 games, and quiets questions about his injury history.
Worst case, at least for Yankee fans, is that Judge misses time again, and drifts toward becoming the New York version of Betts: A homegrown star who once seemed a lock to enter Cooperstown with the team's logo on his plaque -- and who didn't seem as obvious a fit by the time he became a free agent.
No decision happens in a vacuum. Now, when the Yankees decide it's time to discuss Judge's future in earnest, they'll do it with the memory of two recent extensions, and two disappointing results.