St. Louis Cardinals: Making a deal with the devil for Aaron Judge

TAMPA, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 20: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait during photo day on February 20, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 20: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait during photo day on February 20, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The St. Louis Cardinals are a team that lacks big-time power. Sure, they had Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong, but Aaron Judge would make a huge upgrade.

There is a lot that the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees seem to have in common on the baseball field. While the Cardinals don’t have a massive city and the payroll muscle that comes backing the Yankees, both are generally disliked by their respective leagues.

Why? Because they win. They win a lot.

The Cardinals and the Yankees both lead their respective leagues in most World Series Championships (11 for the Cardinals, 27 for the Yankees). While those numbers are vastly different and I’m not saying the Cards are historically the same as the Yankees, but if there was a Yankees of the National League, it’d be hard not to pick the Cardinals.

Moving on from that attempt to make them seem equal, we have seen the two make trades recently, and I think the Cardinals should dip back into that relationship again.

Last time, the Cardinals traded Luke Voit for Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos. This time, I think the Cardinals should go after Aaron Judge.

Judge is a different type of fish to try and go for than the Nolan Arenados of the world. He comes with a lot more risk, but it is a different type of risk.

With Nolan Arenado, the risk comes in the fact that he’s right in the middle of his prime, and just signed a contract that he can not only opt-out of, but also stay on until he’s 35. With that, you certainly risk paying for an aged superstar who’s a shell of his former self.

With Judge, the contract is not an issue. Judge is still on his rookie contract and will not be a free agent until after the 2022 season. He will make a nice chunk of change in arbitration, but it’s nowhere near the $35M a year you’d be paying Arenado.

The risk with Judge comes with his health.

The only time that Judge has ever remained healthy for an entire season was his rookie year in 2017. What did he do that year? He won the Rookie of the Year award, finished second in MVP voting, was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and hit 52 bombs. Judge had an fWAR of 8.3 and immediately put his name on the map.

That’s a lot of pop, a lot of potential, and a lot of fun.

Since then, he’s missed over 100 games due to injury, with his highest games played being in 2018 with 112. There’s the risk.

When he has been healthy, he’s still been mashing though. Since his 174 wRC+ 2017, he’s had put up seasons with a wRC+ of 150 and 141. In his 396 career games, Judge has hit 110 homers and has a career OPS of .952. Judge does strikeout more than 30% of the time, but he also walks about 15% of the time.

Judge is also elite on the other side of the ball. In his three seasons, he has put up a DRS of 8, 17, and 20 in right field. In 2019, he had a stellar seven outfield assists, putting Judge up there with the rest of the best right fielders in baseball.

If he can stay healthy, Judge is a superstar with power the Cardinals haven’t had since Albert Pujols.

So why in the world would the Yankees entertain trading him?

Stemming from this article from Ryan Morik of FanSided MLB, it comes from the fact that the Yankees simply can’t afford to keep everyone. The players the Yankees have chosen to keep have already been injured often. Keeping Judge in that group may not be what they want to do.

Starting with Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees still owe him around $150M until 2028. Stanton is due $208M, but the Marlins will pick up around $50M of that when he inevitably doesn’t opt out of his contract. Stanton played in just 18 games last season.

The Yankees also just gave a seven-year, $70M deal to Aaron Hicks. The 30-year-old outfielder has played in just 37% of games since he began his Yankees career in 2016. His 2019 ended when he underwent Tommy John surgery midseason.

There is then Luis Severino. The talented starter signed a four-year, $40M deal in 2019 and then proceeded to pitch just 12.0 innings last season.

None of these contracts include the money the Yankees will have to pay guys like Gleyber Torres or Gary Sanchez when their paydays come. The Yankees have a ton of payroll to go around, but at some point, they have to hit a limit.

Judge is a great personality off the field as well as on it, but he might be too risky for the Yankees to hand out another longterm deal.

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Judge on the Cardinals would be an amazing sight (if he’s healthy). Dylan Carlson is on his way no doubt, but Judge coming in to take over for Dexter Fowler in right field is so much of an upgrade that the Cardinals can’t worry about how everything fits. With Judge in right, Tyler O’Neill, Carlson, Harrison Bader, and Lane Thomas can duke it out for center and left field. That will work itself out. If you make a trade for Judge, you can’t worry about the playing time consequences.

With his skill on the field as well as his three years of control, Judge will not come cheap. The only thing that will drive down the 28-year-old’s cost is his injury history. How much it drives it down is an interesting debate, but at the end of the day, the Cardinals would have to give up a lot.

It would likely be less than what it would take to acquire Arenado though.

A package around Nolan Gorman and one of the Cardinals’ current young outfielders (O’Neill, Thomas, Bader) would be a nice start, and the Cardinals would have to add from there.

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If Judge ever truly becomes available, the Cardinals would be idiots not to make a push for the player, regardless of the injury risks. Judge strikes out plenty, but his ability to mash at the plate would make him an easy centerpiece for the Cardinals lineup. It’s not a rental and it would be costly, but it would be worth it if Judge can stay on the field.