Hal Steinbrenner realizes it may take record price to keep Aaron Judge

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Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner realizes there is a chance the price may be going up to sign Aaron Judge to a long-term contract after the star slugger’s outstanding first half.

Judge turned down an eight-year contract worth $230.5 million to $234.5 million, cutting off talks ahead of the April 8 opener and saying he wouldn’t negotiate again until after the season. Judge’s representatives wanted a nine-year deal in excess of the average annual value of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout‘s contract, which comes to $319.6 million, a person familiar with the negotiations said then, speaking on condition of anonymity because Judge’s stance was not made public.

“Is it a possibility? Of course it’s a possibility,” Steinbrenner said during his midseason media availability. “But cross that bridge when I come to it.”

Judge, eligible for free agency after the World Series, leads the major leagues with 29 homers. He is second in the AL with 60 RBIs and is batting .281, a big reason the Yankees began Wednesday with a major league-best 58-23 record and a 13-game lead in the AL East.

“Aaron is a great Yankee and he’s very valuable to this organization,” Steinbrenner said. “He’s a great leader. Obviously, he’s performed extremely well this year, which we’re all thrilled about. So, look, any great Yankee, yes, it’s something we’re going to be looking at and talking about seriously. It means a lot to the organization. Nobody’s going to deny that.”

After the Yankees made their long-term offer public in April, Judge and the team agreed last month to a $19 million, one-year deal that avoided an arbirtation hearing. Steinbrenner said even if talks do resume during the season, the team wouldn’t publicly discuss negotiations until after the Yankees’ season is over.

“We made an offer that I feel was a very good one,” Steinbrenner said. “It was based on the numbers, of course, but it was also based in part as what he means to this organization. It was a combination of both. And we just didn’t get a deal done. We had less time, of course, this offseason than we would normally because of lockout and all. But there’s no regrets. We’re going to be having discussions at some point.”

Steinbrenner expressed satisfaction with the team’s offseason makeover, which included trading catcher Gary Sanchez, acquiring shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Jose Trevino, and hiring hitting coach Dillon Lawson. New York didn’t try to sign a premier free-agent shortstop, such as Carlos Correa or Trevor Story.

“To be a great team Gene Michael always used to say defense up the middle, right? That’s something we definitely improved upon,” Steinbrenner said “I didn’t spend $300 million to do it, but I think most people are pretty happy with Isiah and the job he’s done.”

As the Aug. 2 trade deadline approaches, New York may seek a corner outfielder. Joey Gallo began Wednesday with a .165 average, nine homers, 18 RBIs and 89 strikeouts in 194 at-bats.

“It’s been difficult for him, there’s no doubt about it. But there’s a lot of baseball to be had this season.” Steinbrenner said, “I still expect great things out of him. … I am hesitant to give up top prospects. I always have been. But we’ve done it in the past. and all that will be on the table, too.”

Steinbrenner anticipates the path to a title will include a matchup against Houston, which beat the Yankees in the 2017 and 2019 AL Championship Series.

“We all need to be concerned about Houston. They’re a very good team,” he said. “But it’s going to be a challenge for them, too, make no mistake.”

He wouldn’t mind a Subway Series against the Mets, who entered Wednesday with the second-best record in the NL at 50-31.

“I’m all for it,” Steinbrenner said. “Means I’ll be there.”

Cards’ Pujols hits 700th career home run, 4th to reach mark

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run on Friday night, connecting for his second drive of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming the fourth player to reach the milestone in major league history.

The 42-year-old Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, then launched No. 700 in the fourth at Dodger Stadium.

With the drive in the final days of his last big league season, Pujols joined Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

It’s been a remarkable run for Pujols. This was his 14th home run since the start of August for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, and his 21st of the season.

Pujols’ historic homer was a three-run shot against Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. The ball landed in the first few rows of the left-field pavilion, the same location his two-run shot touched down the previous inning off left-hander Andrew Heaney.

Pujols received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd – he finished out last season while playing for the Dodgers. He took a curtain call, raising his cap in acknowledgment.

The fans chanted “Pujols! Pujols!” They finally sat down after being on their feet in anticipation of seeing history.

Pujols snapped a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the list when he hit career homer No. 697 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Reaching 700 homers seemed like a long shot for Pujols when he was batting .189 on July 4. But the three-time NL MVP started to find his stroke in August, swatting seven homers in one 10-game stretch that helped St. Louis pull away in the division race.

“I know that early in the year … I obviously wanted better results,” Pujols said after he homered in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 22. “But I felt like I was hitting the ball hard. Sometimes this game is going to take more away from you than the game (is) giving you back.

“So I think at the end of the day you have to be positive and just stay focused and trust your work. That’s something that I’ve done all the time.”

Pujols has enjoyed a resurgent season after returning to St. Louis in March for a $2.5 million, one-year contract. It’s his highest total since he hit 23 homers for the Angels in 2019.

He plans to retire when the season ends.

Pujols also began his career in St. Louis. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft and won the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award.

The Dominican Republic native hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

He set a career high with 49 homers in 2006 – one of seven seasons with at least 40 homers. He led the majors with 47 homers in 2009 and topped the NL with 42 in 2010.

Pujols left St. Louis in free agency in December 2011, signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels. He was waived by the Angels in May 2021, and then joined the Dodgers and hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.