Aaron Judge free agency decision to dominate MLB winter meeting


SAN DIEGO — Just as San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler was wrapping up his winter meeting with reporters at around 2:30 p.m. The star of the player market has become a reality in his head. It started with a tweet, retract quicklysuggesting that Aaron Judge is taking on the worst-case scenario for the New York Yankees by signing with the Giants.

Despite repeated assurances in the hotel driveway by Giants CEO Larry Bell that he had “nothing to report,” it was directed at reporters without looking at his phone. It was a cloudy day here by the time the sun went down, and nothing was officially announced yet.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he had just gotten out of the shower when the rumors reached him. He called general manager Brian Cashman, who told him that, as far as he knew, nothing had changed. When it was his turn to meet with reporters a few minutes later, he greeted with a smile and joked about the coincidence of the timing.

“It was an uncomfortable moment,” he admitted.

Elsewhere, it’s a wild ride. Reporters in the lobby checked out a charter flight from Tampa to San Diego, where Judge greeted Tom Brady at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game Monday night. They found one and landed in the late afternoon. Baseball news of the day — including first baseman Josh Bell agreeing to a two-year deal with the Cleveland Guardians and left-hander Andrew Heaney agreeing to a two-year deal with the Texas Rangers — according to sources familiar with the matter. 2009 contract – looks quaint by comparison.

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Judge has been in the baseball spotlight for nearly the entire season, from his rejection of New York’s extension offer in April to his 62-home run summer to the night the Yankees’ season ended with the soon-to-be World Series champ Houston The Astros swept them in the American League Championship Series.

For the Yankees, Judge is the foundation of this offseason, not a prize to be won. He’s the AL MVP, and rightfully so: No baseball player has more on-field influence on a team’s fortunes than Judge, who at times has single-handedly bolstered New York’s roster. He’ll be the biggest Giants star since Buster Posey — maybe since Barry Bonds.

So a day in San Diego belongs to Judge, who neither starts the day in San Diego nor makes a decision when MLB’s inaugural draft lottery — won by the Pittsburgh Pirates — tries to change the subject mildly. Agent Scott Boras held one media conference after another. He’s usually the guy with the big stars in those meetings, and he’s got some — but none of them are judges.

One such client was Cody Bellinger, the enigmatic 2019 National League MVP for whom the Los Angeles Dodgers did not offer a contract. He agreed to a one-year, $17.5 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Giants have been interested in adding Bellinger to their outfield, people familiar with the matter said. But if they lose to a high-profile outfielder on Tuesday, you can assume they’d rather be him. (They did sign outfielder Mitch Haniger to a three-year, $43.5 million deal, according to ESPN, but that didn’t stop them from grabbing Judge, too.)

Another Boras client and elite outfielder, former New York Met Brandon Nimmo, was in San Diego this week to meet with the team. But his fate also appears to be tied to Judge’s.

“It is expected that certain clubs will wait to move to the next step based on the outcome of judge free agency,” Boras told reporters.

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If the Giants lose to Judge, do they still need an outfielder? If not, many teams have room for a quick, consistent, top-notch bat like Nimmo — if they’re willing to spend what Boras is asking for him. Even the Tampa Bay Rays, not known for their high payouts, have expressed interest, according to a person familiar with the Nimmo market.

So Nimmo is still on the roster of top unsigned free agents — some of whom could represent backup offensive additions for the Yankees or Giants if anyone misses Judge. Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, catcher Willson Contreras and left-hander Carlos Rodón remained unsigned as of late Tuesday, though right-hander Taijuan Walker agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, according to a person familiar with the matter. $ contract, the Phillies added pitching depth after grabbing star shortstop Trea Turner one day. In hindsight, it will be clear just how dependent all of their markets were on Judge. But the level of speculation surrounding them on Tuesday was minimal by comparison.

No one’s decision ignites the enthusiasm in baseball like Judge did on Tuesday, when a segment of anti-Yankees fans desperately believed that where there is smoke, there is fire — and the Yankees prayed it was a false alarm.

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