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Aaron Judge leaves Giants at the altar, re-signs with Yankees

New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge hits a home run against the Cleveland Guardians during the second inning of Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium In New York, New York, on Oct. 18, 2022. | Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Jon Heyman may not want to show his face in San Francisco for a while.

The New York Post columnist and MLB Network insider had briefly given San Francisco Giants fans a thrill when he tweeted that the team appeared to be on the verge of signing Aaron Judge (or, as he memorably mistyped, “Arson” Judge), a statement he retracted five minutes later.

Fifteen hours later, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi broke the story that Judge is not, in fact, coming to San Francisco after all. He’ll be staying with the New York Yankees, who gave him the same nine-year, $360 million offer that the Giants had reportedly submitted. It’s the largest free agent contract by total value in baseball history.

Morosi followed that up by saying that Judge had higher offers than the 9/360 figure, and he alluded to the San Diego Padres entering the sweepstakes during a Wednesday morning TV appearance, but the 6-foot-7 outfielder ultimately wanted to remain a Yankee after New York presented a competitive offer. Jack Curry, an analyst for YES Network, a Yankees-owned channel, said New York’s initial offer was eight years, $300 million. The deal is not yet fully finalized, as language in the contract is still being settled and Judge will need to pass a physical, but it has been reported that Judge will have a full no-trade clause.

Instead of becoming the most feared power hitter in San Francisco since Barry Bonds, Judge ultimately chose to stay with the Yankees, where he set a new American League single-season home run record last season with 62 longballs, one more than Roger Maris hit with the Yanks in 1961. He was named the 2022 AL MVP, garnering 28 of the 30 first-place votes. He will reportedly also be named captain, a role that has fallen by the wayside on many other MLB teams. No Yankee has been named captain since Derek Jeter’s retirement in 2014.

Originally called up to the Major Leagues in 2016, Judge, a Linden native and Fresno State product, became the new face of the Yankees when he broke out with 52 homers in 2017 and unanimously won the AL Rookie of the Year award. He followed that up with 27 home runs in each of the next two seasons despite missing significant time to injury, and hit 39 in 2021. He also led the American League in walks in both 2017 and 2021, and posted a ludicrous 1.111 OPS (on-base plus slugging) last season.

After turning down a seven-year, $213.5 million offer before the start of the 2022 season, Judge had consistently been linked to the Giants, both because of his Northern California roots and San Francisco’s payroll flexibility after the end of the 2022 season, which saw the expiration of Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria’s hefty contracts. Judge grew up a Giants fan, though Bonds wasn’t his favorite player. Instead, he preferred shortstop Rich Aurilia.

Throughout Judge’s chase of the AL single-season home run record, he was constantly compared to Bonds, and the legitimacy of various single-season home run records was regularly debated. Bonds hit 73 in the 2001 season, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa combined to surpass 61 homers five times, but their legacies have been marred by steroid allegations. Roger Maris Jr. became the face of the camp that believed 61 was the legitimate record until Judge broke it, though Judge himself said that Bonds is the true home run king.

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees celebrates his fourth inning home run during game one of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins in the dugout with his teammates at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 07, 2022 in New York, New York. | Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In addition to providing an obvious lift for an offense that finished 11th in baseball in runs scored and 13th in OPS, Judge would have also undoubtedly driven up attendance and merchandise sales in San Francisco. The Giants finished eighth out of 15 National League teams in attendance in 2022, drawing an average of 30,650 a game. That average was boosted significantly by 10 home dates against the Los Angeles Dodgers, while games against less popular opponents like the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies barely broke 20,000 tickets sold and often had far fewer actual fans in attendance. Those low turnstile counts were often attributed to a lack of big names on the roster.

It’s not the first time the Giants have been runner-up in a chase for a marquee free agent. Before the 2019 season, they were in the mix for Bryce Harper, who ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Giants had entered the offseason stating that they hoped to sign two outfielders, and they did ink one to a contract on Tuesday. Mitch Haniger, a Mountain View native and Archbishop Mitty alum who had spent the prior six years with the Seattle Mariners, signed a three-year, $43.5 million deal. Haniger clubbed 39 homers in 2021 and made an All-Star appearance in 2018, though injuries limited him to 63 games in 2019, 57 in 2022 and kept him out of the 2020 season entirely. He becomes the third Bay Area native on the current roster, joining outfielder/designated hitter Joc Pederson (Palo Alto) and shortstop Brandon Crawford (Pleasanton).

Crawford has one year remaining on his contract and will make $16 million in 2023, but after struggling to hit in 2022, the Giants could be in the mix to spend on a shortstop in a free agent market that’s especially heavy at the position. Trea Turner just signed an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, while Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson remain on the market. San Francisco could also be in the mix to bring back left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodón, who struck out 237 batters before opting out of the second year of his two-year deal in hopes of parlaying his success into a larger contract. Rodón is clearly the top remaining pitcher on the market after Jacob deGrom signed with the Texas Rangers and Justin Verlander filled the hole deGrom left with the New York Mets.

As for other remaining outfielders, Brandon Nimmo, who played seven seasons with the Mets, is the hottest name on the market. Other intriguing options include Andrew Benintendi, who spent the final two months of the 2022 season with the Yankees after a trade from the Kansas City Royals, and Joey Gallo, who had a pair of 40-homer seasons with the Rangers but struggled with the Yankees after a 2021 Trade Deadline swap. The Giants could also look to reacquire Bryan Reynolds, who requested a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates last week. San Francisco drafted Reynolds in 2016 but traded him to Pittsburgh in January 2018 for outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

The Giants open the 2023 season on March 30 in New York, facing none other than the Yankees. Under the new schedule matrix that’ll begin in 2023, the Giants will face every AL team each year. Barring a World Series matchup, Judge would likely appear at Oracle Park with the Yankees in 2024.