For a few glorious minutes, Arson Judge was on the San Francisco Giants. And then, for a few glorious minutes, after a quick correction that later proved incorrect by reporter Jon Heyman, Aaron Judge was on the San Francisco Giants.
And then he wasn’t.
But it seemed only a matter of time. The Giants denied the report, as Heyman deleted his tweet and apologized for having “jumped the gun.” More worryingly, the New York Yankees denied the report.
Yet it still felt inevitable.
We see this every year, with multiple players and multiple moves involving multiple teams. A report comes out, those involved deny it, and 20 minutes later they’re announcing it on their own terms.
What were the odds that this was the one time where the report was redacted not because an agent or exec texted the reporter saying, “duuuuude, you were supposed to hold off on tweeting that,” but because it was flatly wrong? Wrong with, as far as we can tell, no basis for ever having arrived at it being correct.
Between his record-setting 2022, the two historic teams involved, and the era that we live in, you could make a strong case that this was the most publicized and meaningful free agent race in MLB history. And it was the one time that I can remember — although I’m sure there have been others — that a reputable reporter simply got it wrong.
This isn’t an attack on Heyman, although we’re a few years overdue for a discussion on why breaking sports news 20 seconds before the world would have otherwise found out became such an important thing that journalists are willing to get info entirely wrong, make glaring spelling mistakes, and copy and paste propaganda texts from agents.
We’ll talk about that when we’ve cooled down.
This is merely to point out that you could not have designed a more painful way to lose the free agent sweepstakes for one of the greatest players of this generation. This was the free agency version of blowing a 5-0 lead in a clinching World Series game.
As I stayed up late that night, my thoughts on Judge shifted from “when, not if,” to “well, probably.” And when the Sudafed I took to help ease my COVID symptoms resulted in me blowing through my morning alarm, I woke up to multiple notifications that informed me that I skipped all of the stages between “well, probably” and “ahh, shit.”
And I’ve been incredibly sad ever since.
The Judge journey was both a beautiful and painful reminder that sports are more than just an equation. We don’t watch games just to see the outcome. A final play deciding whether a contest is a win or a loss does not determine whether or not we enjoyed the previous three hours of our lives watching it build to that climactic moment. A trophy hoisted or a tear shed in the final game of the season doesn’t tell us whether the journey of half a year was worth embarking on. I remember 2021 quite fondly.
Sometimes I don’t watch games. Sometimes I just check the score when the game is over. It doesn’t do very much for me.
I strongly supported the Giants pursuit of Judge, and I would have supported it if Farhan Zaidi busted through the walls of the Winter Meetings like the Kool-Aid Man with one of those fiscal offers that makes 29 other teams guffaw.
And yet even as they courted the reigning AL MVP, I understood the reality of the situation: signing Judge wasn’t the only way to improve the team, and might not even be the best. The Giants have since pivoted to Carlos Correa, who will likely command a similar amount of money, spread out over an additional two or three years.
If I had to bet on who will be the better player at the end of their contracts, I’d choose Correa. If I had to bet who will be the better player in 2025, I’d probably choose Correa. If I had to bet who will be the better player in 2023, you wouldn’t have to give me very crazy odds to get me to put money on Correa.
The Giants can probably sign Correa and a pitcher for the AAV that Judge got. They could sign Correa and a pretty darn good pitcher for the AAV that a Godfather offer to Judge would have been — an offer that I would have smiled at.
So why am I so sad?
Maybe it’s just the agony of defeat, and the last of the pain will wipe away when Logan Webb fans Judge three straight times in the season opener. But I don’t think that’s it.
I think it’s because I want to watch Aaron Judge play baseball. I want to watch Aaron Judge play baseball much, much more than I want to watch Carlos Correa play baseball.
Forget the wins. Forget the losses. Forget the contract bloat in 2030 when Judge is getting paid $3 million for every home run. I spend 4-500 hours a year watching these silly blokes and I want Aaron Judge to occupy some of those hours because he’s so much fun, damn it. I don’t care if it’s the best move in terms of baseball wins and losses. It’s the best move in baseball terms, because I haven’t watched this dumbass sport diligently for 32 years just for November 1, 2010, October 28, 2012, and October 29, 2014.
I’ve watched it because it’s fun.
This year, when Judge was chasing and eventually setting the American League record for home runs, other sporting events kept cutting away to his at-bats. They were stop-everything-and-watch theater.
It’s the first time the sport has seen that since Barry Bonds. Even the next major superstar target for the Giants, Shohei Ohtani — the most unique player in MLB history, and far and away the best player alive — doesn’t offer that level of entertainment. Baseball isn’t a “stop everything and watch this one player” sport. Except it was for Judge.
The reality is that it might never again be for Judge. He hit 207% as well as the average MLB hitter last year, per wRC+ … the next closest number was all the way down at 185%, with only six players not named Judge eclipsing the 150% mark.
But, while clearly on a Hall of Fame trajectory, history tells us that season is an outlier. Judge will likely fade from “historically excellent” to a mere “very, very good” next year, with continued steps down the ladder every season. Even if he had given the Giants a rose, he may never have been a player that you plan your bathroom breaks and beer runs around.
The dream was fun, though. And once Heyman’s unprofessional blunder allowed us to finally entertain the idea that the dream could be more than that, we — or at least I — fully realized just how fun it was.
The Giants might be good next year and in the years to come. They might be very good. they might be better than they would have been if Judge had said yes to the nine years, $360 million, and one Rich Aurilia that they offered him.
But I won’t have as much fun watching them. And right now, that’s kind of all that I care about.