Aaron Judge is betting big on himself, again — this time going to an arbitration hearing with the New York Yankees that begins at noon Friday rather than accepting a settlement.
On the eve of that season, Judge turned down a $213.5 million contract offer from the Yankees, opting instead to leave open the possibility that he could become a free agent this fall. Now, amid the best season of his career and with the arbitration case looming, Judge has taken a similar approach with his 2022 salary. According to sources, the Yankees have offered to settle midway – $19 million. But Judge declined and is instead aiming for an arbitration victory that management and union officials say will change the financial landscape for players in the immediate future.
Arbitration cases are usually adjudicated in the offseason, with players and teams offering salaries in January and hearing those numbers in February. But the sport’s recent offseason schedule has been obliterated by owners locking players out, so arbitration cases have boiled over this season.
Given this year’s unusual hearing schedule, any evidence generated after the start of the 2022 season cannot be presented by either the Yankees or the judge’s representatives; the three-person panel cannot consider any production from this year. This judge is on track to become the first player in more than two decades to hit 60 homers, has an OPS of over 1,000 this year and is likely the favorite for the AL MVP, is supposed to be irrelevant in the arguments, which should last four to five hours on Zoom, with Judge in cyber presence.
Prior to the COVID pandemic, hearings were held with all principals in the same room — club officials, the player and their representatives, arbitrators — and often cases were settled through informal conversations either before the proceedings , or during breaks. But that kind of side-by-side dialogue cannot happen in this setting.
Arbitrators are also not supposed to take into account the relative success or failure of management or union in the 2022 cases – although in recent years officials on both sides have suspected that the overall figures have at least some impact on decisions. Per AP, teams have won nine of 13 cases so far this year.
The 30-year-old judge was paid prorated against the Yankees’ $17 million offer. If he were to prevail in the case and be paid $21 million for this year, the team would be obligated to repay him the back pay — to date, an accumulation of $1.65 million.
The judge’s injury history greatly complicates his case. When he was on the pitch, he was one of the best players at the majors. In his first full season of 2017, he played in 155 games and hit 52 homers, scored 128 runs, won AL Rookie of the Year and finished second to Jose Altuve of the Astros in MVP voting.
But Judge missed 142 games during the 2018-20 seasons, with a series of injuries. Playing 148 games in 2021, Judge returned to preeminence, finishing fourth in AL MVP voting.
Judge made near minimum wage his first three full seasons at the majors, and in his first stint through arbitration in 2020, his salary was set at $8.5 million (although he didn’t earn that much). , with the MLB season limited to 60 games by COVID). Judge’s salary was $10.175 million in 2021, and the Yankees offered a raise of nearly $7 million this year. Judge’s side offered a salary more than double what he did last year.
If the judge wins, it will be considered a major victory for the players’ association because of how it could impact future cases of players who have lost a lot of time through injury.