By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
Major League Baseball’s most muscular salaries continue to gather velocity quicker than a searing fastball, yet no player has ever earned $100 million per year because, well, of course they haven’t.
We are a ways away from any MLB player inking a contract that actually pays $100 million annually. But the difference between what Aaron Judge was initially offered from the New York Yankees — seven years, $213.5 million — and what that number could be when he signs his next contract, should be close to an eye-popping $100 million.
Judge is due to benefit to the tune of a number so big that scientific notation is probably more appropriate (1 x 108, as any switched-on 9th-grader will tell you) — because he gambled.
He stared down that seven-year, $213.5 million offer from the Yankees and said “nah, I’m good for now.” It was a bet on his own abilities, and even he couldn’t have imagined it would go quite this well, with a season for the ages heading toward its close and history just a few more giant swings away.
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Belting 57 home runs by mid-September gets you a lot of things. In Judge’s case, it has put him in position to break Roger Maris’ American League and Yankees record of 61 dingers, compiled a symmetrical 61 years ago.
It has also brought him the glued-on notice of the baseball world, it should earn him the AL MVP over Shohei Ohtani, and it might even get him the Triple Crown if his average keeps climbing. Most of all, it is guaranteed to bring him stratospheric money once free agency rolls around.
The Yankees are the favorites to retain him, but it won’t come cheap. The talk in New York quickly reached the $300 million mark by mid-summer. Now, most predictions in the Big Apple are sitting around $310-315 million, a neat $100 million or so past the former offer, and it barely even seems steep.
A wage of $45 million a year is outrageous money by any societal standard. But sports follows its own economic ecosystem, and for a player who is the face of the game’s most storied franchise and — along with Ohtani — the face of baseball itself, it sounds about right.
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It’ll happen one day, you can be sure, that a contract will be written that affords some sensational performer a nine-figure pay-packet for his exploits on the diamond. As things stand right now, the largest agreement for a specific year is the $45 million the Los Angeles Dodgers were due to have paid Trevor Bauer in 2022.
By the time the milestone of $100 million annually is reached, it will no longer seem quite so other-worldly. It will probably have already long since been passed by an NFL quarterback (or eight), it could be the standard max figure for an NBA veteran, and the top soccer players in the world will be right around there, too.
None of which is especially relevant for now, except to remind us that money in sports is a reflection of value, both real and implied, and that few athletes offer as much of either as Judge.
What kind of boldness does it take for a player to back himself in such fearless fashion and then go and outslug everyone else in the whole darn league? This isn’t a season where baseballs have taken on a life of their own and positively leaped out of the park under their own steam.
Kyle Schwarber has had a sizzler of a campaign for the Philadelphia Phillies and sits second in the home run race, but had “only” reached 37 as of Thursday. Judge has avoided slumps all season, even as the Yankees’ magnificent start lost its vigor. He could afford a short one now and still cruise past Maris.
“Every Judge at-bat the rest of the way is going to be an event,” wrote the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro. “They are going to be must-see TV. If you are a fan of the Yankees — or merely a fan of baseball — it is impossible not to want to see every pitch. Because every time he swings the bat, something splendid and spectacular could be looming.”
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Aaron Judge crushes one of his two home runs against Boston on Tuesday.
It is even possible that the record could be matched or broken in dream fashion, with the Yankees due to host the Boston Red Sox between Thursday and Sunday of next week.
Sports are trend-driven, and athletes are hardwired to believe in themselves. Will the example of Judge convince others to take on financial risk of similar magnitude in the hope of even grander rewards? Don’t bet against it.
Players are supposed to get worse at Judge’s age (30), not better, and there is some anecdotal evidence in the sport that huge individuals (he’s 6-foot-7) are more likely to suffer injury difficulties.
There’s no sign of it right now, and Judge feels increasingly like an outlier, only to be compared with his own prior performances and not with anyone else.
The man with the clubbing swing will be coveted by baseball teams everywhere this offseason. This week, a Boston reporter asked him — just after homers 56 and 57 — if he fancied a switch to the Red Sox. He punted the question, just like he has most of the year.
“I don’t mind going into free agency,” Judge told reporters at the start of the season. “At the end of the year, I’ll talk to 30 teams. The Yankees will be one of them.”
The Yankees might feel like they occupy the pole position in the signing stakes, but they are also the only ones with something to lose. Any other franchise can swing for the fences on a Judge offer and if they get him, it would be an almighty coup. If not … it’s as you were.
For the Yankees to see a player who is already etched as a franchise legend depart would be a devastating blow.
This is why they’ll surely do all they can, why the number can climb so high, and why Judge has around $100 million worth of added-value leverage in his pocket — a sum gained through the force of his own excellence.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter at @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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