NEW YORK — Aaron Judge’s last interview of the season, maybe his last representing the Yankees, ended at 1:05 amon Monday. He answered questions for 11 minutes — some about the Houston Astros sweeping the Yankees into another unfulfilled offseason with a 6-5 ALCS Game 4 comeback win, some about his record-setting 62-homer season, some about his uncertain future with free agency approaching. .
When the questions were cut off by Jason Zillo, Yankees vice president of media relations, Judge left the interview area in the middle of the clubhouse and started towards his back-of-the-clubhouse locker.
The judge was stopped after a few steps by a beat reporter. A few words were said before they shook hands. Then another reporter approached to do the same thing, then another and another. This continued past 1:10 in the morning, then 1:20, then 1:25 as Nestor Cortes, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rizzo gave their postmortems. At one point a half-dozen writers waited in line for their one-on-one chat with the Yankees slugger – an unusual occurrence.
“Judge’s reception line,” one reporter blurted out.
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This looked, sounded and felt like the end of an era, especially when Judge ended one encounter with a veteran reporter by saying, “I’ll see you somewhere down the road.”
Perhaps Opening Day 2023 at Yankee Stadium with the San Francisco Giants in the Bronx.
The Giants have targeted Judge and are prepared to spend whatever it takes, a person with knowledge of the Giants’ thinking told NJ Advance Media after meeting with members of the franchise’s ownership group. The person, who is not authorized to speak on behalf of the team, was granted anonymity.
“Judge is at the top of the Giants list and they won’t be underbid,” the person said. “If they miss out, it won’t be because of money.”
The person added that the Giants planned to entice Judge further by signing at least two high-priced free agents.
“The Giants are not going to stop with Judge,” the person said. “They have so much money freed up.”
The Giants were a .500 team and missed the playoffs this year, finishing third in the NL West behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. They believe adding Judge can get them back to the contender they were in 2021, when they won an MLB-high 107 games and made it to the NLCS, the person added.
“They need a draw with the Dodgers and Padres in their division spending big money on big names,” the person said. “I know the Giants are also feeling pressure with the Warriors’ basketball team doing so well and spending big in the same market.”
If the Giants sign Judge, he’d be going home to play for the Northern California franchise that he rooted for during his youth. He was born and raised about 90 minutes from San Francisco in Linden, Calif., a tiny no-red-light town known for its cherry orchards. Judge’s parents and in-laws still live in Linden.
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The Dodgers and other clubs could become serious pursuers of Judge, as well, turning this into a bidding war that figures to surpass $300 million.
According to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, the Yankees plan to make an offer that blows away the $213.5 million over seven years that Judge turned down on Opening Day. The Yankees could dangle the team captaincy to Judge, who already has that title unofficially.
But will that be enough? More importantly, will it be too late?
Judge is believed to remain upset that the Yankees announced details of the extension, and a person close to him believes the Giants are Judge’s No. 1 choice and predicted, “It’s going to be looking good next season for the orange and black.”
Those, of course, are the Giants’ colors.
Judge has loved wearing Yankees pinstripes, but people close to the team believe fans and media have been wearing them on him. Judge was upset this season when Joey Gallo, who was traded in August, and Aaron Hicks endured fan abuse at Yankee Stadium for their poor performances.
Despite hitting an American League-record 62 home runs during the regular season, Judge was booed during a slow start to the season and during two home playoff games when he was in a postseason slump.
There is another sign that Judge appears ready to leave the Yankees:
In last October, he was distraught while talking to the media after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs. This year, he didn’t seem nearly as upset, even though he hit just .139 with two homers in nine games; the hated Astros defeated the Yankees for the third time since his rookie season in 2017; and the Yankees fizzled after building a 61-23 record through July 8 that had them on pace for a record 118 wins.
Has Judge become accustomed to the Yankees losing in the playoffs?
Maybe this loss was easier to take because it was inevitable, as opposed to 2017, when the Yankees lost seven-game ALCS to Houston, or in 2019 when the Astros beat them in six games on a pennant-winning, walk-off homer.
Regardless of what happens once free agency begins five days after the conclusion of the World Series, it probably wouldn’t be easy for Judge to leave the Yankees. He’s loyal to his teammates. He’s a clubhouse leader, supporter and friend — in good times and bad. But going home might be too difficult to pass up if the Giants outbid all other suitors and bring in help.
“The Giants are confident that they can sign Judge,” the person said. “It will be interesting for sure.”
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Randy Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.