SAN DIEGO – New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, fearing that they were going to lose Aaron Judge, came back to his hotel room Tuesday night and decided to telephone Judge one last time.
Judge was in San Diego, just a few blocks away from the baseball winter meetings headquarters, but he wasn’t in town to meet with the Yankees.
“I had a pit in my stomach all day,” Boone said.
It was about 11 pm when Boone called. He told Judge how he felt about him, reminded him what he means to the Yankee organization, but when the conversation ended, Boone had no hints where Judge was headed.
“I really didn’t know,” Boone told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday morning before a breakfast gathering with managers. “He didn’t tell me. All I knew is that the Padres were now involved, along with the Giants.
“I went to bed, and really, just hoped for the best.”
Boone woke up about 5 in the morning Wednesday.
I checked his phone.
There were several text messages, including one from Yankees GM Brian Cashman.
Judge was staying with the Yankees.
Judge, the Yankees’ greatest power hitter since Babe Ruth, agreed to the most lucrative free-agent contract in baseball history: nine years, $360 million contract.
Yankee fans wildly celebrated.
And the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres grieved.
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“Congratulations,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler told Boone upon seeing him at 9 in the morning.
Kapler then thumped his chest with his right arm, and said, “But this one hurts.”
The Giants also offered Judge a nine-year, $360 million contract, giving him the opportunity to come home to Northern California, two hours where he grew up in Linden, Calif., and become their greatest attraction since Barry Bonds.
“I think we pulled out all of the stops,” one high-ranking Giants official said. “We left it all on the field, as they say.”
The Padres, who entered the Judge sweepstakes late, sent a private plane Tuesday for Judge, and spoke with him for more than two hours at Petco Park, just a few blocks from the Grand Hyatt winter meeting hotel. Judge and his representatives met with Padres owner Peter Seidler, GM AJ Preller and manager Bob Melvin.
The Padres didn’t submit an official offer in writing, but informed Judge they would pay him $400 million over 10 years.
Judge and his representatives left Petco Park, went back to their hotel, when the Yankees made one final push.
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, who was in Italy, telephoned Judge and asked him directly:
“Do you want to be a Yankee?”
Judge reiterated it was still his desire, and Steinbrenner responded by asking just what it would take to sign him.
Judge asked the Yankees to at least match the Giants’ offer.
Steinbrenner quickly agreed.
And the Yankees got their man.
Cashman spent the night working out the details – which includes a full no-trade clause – and will be finalized once the contract language is complete and Judge takes a physical.
Cashman arrived at a press briefing Wednesday morning with no sleep, but elated, calling Steinbrenner the Mariano Rivera of the negotiations.
“Our owner spearheaded efforts, as he stated he would do everything in his power to retain Aaron Judge,” Cashman said. “Rest assured, he’s putting his money from him where his mouth from him is.
“The Steinbrenner family has consistently allowed us to pursue or retain some of the greatest that are available on a year in, and year out basis.”
Steinbrenner, of course, is a businessman, too, and he realized the financial consequences of losing Judge. Judge is easily the Yankees’ biggest marquee attraction, and the leader in all merchandise sales. Simply, Steinbrenner was going to do everything possible to make sure he didn’t get away.
It didn’t matter if the Yankees had pivoted and spent $1 billion on the free agent market, it wasn’t going to replace Judge, the lineage of past Yankee sluggers from Ruth to Gehrig to DiMaggio to Mantle to Maris.
“Clearly, I never had to negotiate and try to retain somebody that just broke Roger Maris’ American League home run record,” Cashman said. “But I have been heavily involved of engaging many great players, and this speaks to the Steinbrenner family that we have been in the position that they have allowed us to engage the planet’s best players.
“We’re in a position to try to secure great players with the ultimate goal of having a great team.”
Still, despite their financial clout, the Yankees were scared to death that they nearly lost their man. Team officials were sent into a sheer panic Tuesday afternoon when an erroneous report circulated that Judge was signing with the Giants.
“[Tuesday] It was a long rough day in a lot of ways,” Boone said. “I was concerned all day.
“It’s a weird time [when] a guy you spend a lot of time with, the face of your team, as important as a player he is, out there playing the free agent game. It’s an awkward time, especially at the winter meetings. Things get sped up, and you know a decision is probably coming soon, it definitely made a very uncomfortable day.”
Then again, the Yankees made life stressful for Judge this season, too. He rejected a seven-year, $213.5 million contract offer before opening day, and was angry that the Yankees revealed their offer.
So Judge, 30, decided to bet on himself.
And walked away from the poker table with $360 million worth of chips, receiving an extra $146.5 million by waiting a year.
“You’re talking about one of the game’s great players,” Cashman said, “and as his career develops over the course of time, hopefully he’s going to be one of the game’s greatest players.”
Judge’s deal exceeds Francisco Lindor’s 10-year, $341 million free-agent contract with the New York Mets.
The only bigger commitments in baseball is Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels and Mookie Betts’ 12-year, $365 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Trout added a 10-year, $360 million extension to his previous deal and Betts’ was merely an extension, he never reached free agency.
Judge’s $40 million average salary is the highest by a position player in history.
“I always felt like he certainly belongs in pinstripes,” Boone said. “He’s an amazing player, an amazing person, that he certainly has the respect of everyone in that room.
“When you have a player of that caliber that is beloved and important as he is on a daily basis, you want to do your best to hang onto that.
“This is an enormous boost to us.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism