The Yankees’ season ended in last night’s 6-2 loss to the Red Sox in the AL wild card game, and speculation immediately began about the Bronx Bombers’ next steps. It has now been 12 seasons (a eternity by Bronx standards) since the Yankees’ last World Series appearance, and a return trip won’t get any easier in 2022.
“We’ve got to get better in every aspect because it’s not just the Red Sox and the Astros now in our league,” manager Aaron Boone told ESPN’s Joon Lee and other reporters. “Look at our division — the Rays are a beast, Toronto. There’s some teams in the Central that are better and better, teams in the West that are better and better, teams that have closed the gap on us.”
Whatever moves are made during the offseason, perhaps the first question on many fans’ minds is whether or not Boone will still be the one managing any new faces. While Boone has an outstanding 328-218 record in his four seasons as manager, it hasn’t resulted in a contract extension from the original deal he signed back in December 2017. That original contract was for three seasons and a club option for 2021, which the Yankees exercised, though Boone spent the year in lame-duck status without any guarantee for a longer tenure.
“I haven’t had any conversations about [my contract] with anyone, so we’ll see,” Boone said. “I love being here. I love going to work with this group of players….Whatever does happen, I’m at peace with. I know that I can hold my head high.”
Brett Gardner is the last player remaining from the Yankees’ 2009 championship team, and after spending his entire career in New York, the outfielder told ESPN’s Marly Rivera and other reporters that “I hope I am back next season.” The ball is in Gardner’s court to some extent, as he has a $2.3MM player option for 2022, and the Yankees have a $7.15MM club option (with a $1.15MM buyout) available should Gardner decline his player option.
Gardner has played each of the last three seasons on one-year guaranteed contracts, with the Yankees opting to decline club options following the 2018 and 2020 seasons. Since Gardner delivered a below-average (90 OPS+, 93 wRC+) offensive season by hitting only .222/.327/.362 over 461 plate appearances, it seems hard to see the Yankees retain him at that $7.15MM figure, even considering Gardner’s long history with the team and his still-solid baserunning and outfield glovework at age 38. It’s possible a new deal could be worked out for something between the $2.3MM and $7.15MM price points, though Gardner might prefer to avoid the uncertainty of offseason negotiations and just lock in his player option, even if it means a substantial pay cut.
Aaron Judge can look forward to a nice raise (from his $10.175MM salary in 2021) in his third and final arbitration year, as the star slugger enjoyed another big season. Judge hit .287/.373/.544 with 39 home runs, and though he spent 11 days on the COVID-related injury list, Judge’s 148 games and 633 PA represented his highest totals in either category since 2017.
It all makes for a very nice platform for Judge in extension talks, as Judge is scheduled for free agency following the 2022 season. “I want to be a Yankee for life,” Judge told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times and other reporters last night. “I want to wear the pinstripes the rest of my career and represent this great organization and bring a championship back to the city. But you never know what the future holds for you.”
After Judge was hampered by injuries in 2018-20, his ability to stay on the field this season should to some extent lessen any concerns the Yankees might have about Judge’s chances of staying healthy into his 30’s. (Judge will be 31 on Opening Day 2023.) Judge has been one of the sport’s most fearsome bats even in his injury-plagued years, and he has also become a fan favorite in New York and the face of this era of Yankees baseball. It remains to be see, however, whether Judge’s track record results in an extension with a franchise that generally hasn’t agreed to many contract extensions in the Hal Steinbrenner era.
While pure dollars aren’t really the issue, the fact that the Yankees stayed under the luxury tax threshold this season and reset their tax payment status could be a hint towards a willingness to work something out with their popular slugger. When the Yankees last ducked under the luxury tax line in 2018, they responded with a pair of extensions with Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks the following spring. Of course, the fact that the Yankees have thus far gotten very little return on those Severino and Hicks deals might also have perhaps hardened the team’s resolve against extensions.