NEW YORK — Aaron Judge‘s future is uncertain. It remains to be seen whether Aaron Boone’s is, too.
Judge’s career in pinstripes might have ended when he made the final out in a 6-5 loss to the Houston Astros, who completed a four-game AL Championship Series sweep as the Yankees unraveled with yet another defensive meltdown.
“Getting a chance to wear the pinstripes and play right field at Yankee Stadium, it’s an incredible honor that I definitely didn’t take for granted at any point,” Judge said in the quiet clubhouse. “I always check myself pregame and I say a little prayer and I kind of look around the stadium and I kind of pinch myself.”
“Very few individuals get a chance to run on that field and do that and play in front of the fans that support us throughout my whole six years here,” he added. “It was a special time, and I just kick myself for not bringing home that championship for them.”
In the hours before opening day, Judge turned down a seven-year contract that would have paid $213.5 million from 2023-29, choosing instead to remain eligible for free agency after the World Series.
He set an American League record with 62 homers, tied for the major league lead with 131 RBIs and finished second in the AL with a .311 batting average. But he hit just .139 with three RBIs and 15 strikeouts in the postseason, going 1 for 16 (.063) with no RBIs against the Astros. He made the final out on a comebacker.
“It’s baseball, man. I mean, it happens all the time where the greatest of greats go through a struggle,” Boone said. ” It’s a game of failure. You’re going to have some ups and downs.”
Able to negotiate with all teams starting on the sixth day after the World Series, Judge is due a big reward for betting on himself. He could command a $300 million-plus contract.
“That’s all going to run through my agent,” he said. “I haven’t even thought about the next step yet. But like I said, we got we got time to figure it out.”
Boone agreed last October to a three-year with a team option for 2025. In his fifth season as manager, New York sprinted to a 61-23 record in early July, sparking comparison with the 1998 championship Yankees. But hampered by injuries, the Yankees went 38-40 the rest of the way.
Cleveland extended the Division Series to five games, and Boone’s pitching and outfield decisions were repeatedly questioned. Debate will only increase after he left in Nestor Cortes, and the All-Star left-hander allowed Jeremy Pena’s tying three-run homer. Boone then removed Cortes, and the Yankees announced the left-hander had a reoccurrence of a left groin injury.
New York’s defense was a constant issue in the playoffs, making six errors and failing several other times. The Yankees hit .173 with 103 strikeouts in nine postgame games, including .162 against the Astros. Jose Trevino was 0 for 11, Oswaldo Cabrera 0 for 9 and Josh Donaldson 1 for 13.
“I could sit here and make excuses about if a ball falls this way, a ball drops that way or a pitch is made here and there.” Judge said. “But what it comes down to is they just played better than us, played better defense, came up with the big hits and came away with the series.”
Without a World Series title since 2009, New York heads into an offseason in which pitcher Jameson Taillon, outfielder Andrew Benintendi and utilitymen Matt Carpenter and Marwin Gonzalez are eligible for free agency along with relievers Chad Green, Miguel Castro, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
“They took a chance on me coming back from rehab and elbow surgery,” Taillon said. “I loved my time here. I would definitely love to come back.”
First baseman Anthony Rizzo can opt out and give up a $16 million salary for next season, and the Yankees are likely to exercise a $15 million option on pitcher Luis Severino rather than pay a $2.75 million buyout.
Brian Cashman, the general manager since 1998, is finishing a five-year contract. He has been attempting to retool the roster in recent years to make the batting order less right-handed and improve the defense. The process began when Gleyber Torres was moved to second base in September 2021 and catcher Gary Sanchez was traded last winter, and kept up with the August acquisition of center fielder Harrison Bader, who hit .333 in the postseason with five homers.
New York was missing DJ LeMahieu, who may need toe surgery, and Benintendi, recovering from wrist surgery.
“It’s an awful day, just an awful ending. It stings. It hurts,” Boone said. “Obviously we had some key contributors missing that I think would have been difference-makers for us potentially.”