Why Mariners should pursue franchise-changing move for Aaron Judge

Oct 25, 2022, 12:18 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 3:38 pm

Mariners Aaron Judge...

Aaron Judge walks to the clubhouse after a game against the Mariners at T-Mobile Park on Aug. 9, 2022. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Riding into the offseason full of momentum from a year that set a decidedly positive tone for the Mariners’ future, with a core of young talent ready to enter its prime and the eyes of the baseball world on Seattle next summer, the time is now and the moment is right to make a move that will reverberate across the country.

The Mariners need to go sign Aaron Judge. Seriously, go do it. Sign Aaron Judge and make a resounding statement that this team will be the marquee club in baseball for the next decade.

Sure, it’s not that easy. There are preexisting relationships and reasons Judge might prefer one of the other 10-15 teams who may seriously inquire about him, but this time money should not be the reason that the Mariners aren’t in on signing an undisputed superstar to put in an outfield next to one of baseball’s brightest, rising stars in Julio Rodríguez.

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The Yankees will come with everything they have, which is certainly a lot, but just look at the current landscape of baseball for encouragement that star players end up in places outside of New York and L.A. Last offseason, the Rangers (the 102-loss Rangers!) handed out a combined $500 million to Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. The Twins made a splash with what turned out to be just a one-year, $35.1 million deal with Carlos Correa (he opted out after the first year of a potential three-year deal), and the Padres were one of the first to start this new wave of spending with what was then a record-breaking deal of 10 years and $300 million for Manny Machado in 2019.

If those teams can do it, then certainly the Mariners can, as well. According to Spotrac.com, the Mariners’ current payroll entering the 2023 season is just $88 million, which is 17th in baseball. There is a lot in flux with contracts and player movement, so for a better frame of reference, this past season the Mariners payroll was approximately $128 million, 21st in MLB. The Padres are the paradigm of what the Mariners can be: a self-built power that is now on the level, competitively and from a marketability standpoint, of the perennial big-market teams in the game. The Padres’ 2018 opening day payroll was the sixth-lowest in baseball, but this year they were fifth-highest in MLB and knocked their bitter rival, the Dodgers, out of the playoffs to reach the NLCS for the first time since 1998.

The Mariners, much like the Padres, are not entering bidding wars every year for the highest-priced free agents, but this year, this time they can empty their pockets, go all-in, and add an enticing piece to the compliment of weapons that would have this team as one of the focal points of baseball all season long. The uptick in revenue would also be significant. Merchandise sales, sold-out crowds, and the obvious assumption that more (many more) home playoff games would be on the way, as well.

The stars have also aligned for the Mariners to make this particular offseason a big one because next summer the All-Star Game comes to Seattle for the first time in 22 years. The Mariners have the potential to grab the spotlight and showcase their team to the entire country. With the mercurial nature of the current All-Star Game voting, it might be a lot to ask for them to replicate the four starters and eight All-Stars that represented the hometown squad back in 2001, but it’s not hard to envision a scenario where two-thirds of the American League’s starting outfield is playing at its home field in the midsummer classic.

We have arrived at the big question and the underlying issue at hand: What will it cost to sign Aaron Judge? That’s a tough one because of how dense current contracts have become. Not a single person could have accurately predicted all of the complexities and the unique elements of Julio Rodríguez’s long-term deal with the Mariners (and if someone says they did, then they’re lying to you), so to predict the length and total value of what it will take to land Judge is best left to people whose jobs rely on negotiating such deals.

However, the current Average Annual Value (AAV) of the top contracts in MLB gives us a good idea of the baseline for Judge’s contract. Pitchers will always command more per year, so the likely minimum for Judge is above $35.5 million, which is what Mike Trout makes and the current highest-paid AAV for any position player. Predicting a total number is tough because Judge will be 31 years old next April, much older then when Trout or Bryce Harper signed their respective 12- and 13-year deals. This is where contract creativity comes into play, so there is no need to further dig into the minutiae of what it will cost, because the point remains: the Mariners can and should do everything possible to make it happen.

You wait and bide your time for a moment like this, when the confluence of young talent just beginning their primes and a rotation that is the envy of the league combines with a superstar who can shine the national spotlight on Seattle and make the Mariners one of the marquee draws in the game. This would be a franchise-altering move, a massive statement to the rest of the league, and a sign that the Mariners are a force to be reckoned with for years to come. The time is now, seize the moment that awaits.

(But if they do miss out on Judge, don’t tell anyone – especially not my editor – that we can essentially recycle this same article for Shohei Ohtani after next season.)

Dipoto: Mariners’ plan for outfield, not a ‘slam dunk’ Haniger returns

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