In 2017 Aaron Judge broke out in the Bronx, smashing an AL rookie record 52 homers en route to the Rookie of The Year award – with some also believing that he was deserving of the MVP award too.
Along with Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, the Baby Bombers were born and Judge was their leader. Even without considering his tremendous feats achieved on the field that season, it was also clear that Judge possessed the priceless intangibles needed to shoulder the pressure of being a superstar in New York City. Clean cut, charismatic and a blossoming role model, Judge was the perfect man to be anointed the new face of the Yankees, a void not filled since the retirement of Derek Jeter.
Two seasons have now been and gone since Judge introduced himself to the big leagues in such spectacular fashion. The right fielder has continued to impress, becoming the third fastest player to reach the 100 home run mark, trailing only Ryan Howard and his teammate Gary Sanchez. Judge has also built a career OPS of .952, a staggering figure that frightens the life out of opposing pitchers.
Perhaps more frightening though, to both Judge himself and the Yankees, is the amount of games the slugger has missed over the course of those two seasons. He missed 50 in 2018 with a fractured wrist and then 60 the following year with an oblique problem. Without those injuries, it is reasonable to believe that we’d more likely be discussing his reaching at least 150 homers and, perhaps most importantly, how a healthy Aaron Judge drove the Yankees to their first pennant in over a decade.
Fast forward to the present day and Judge can’t get on the field for Spring Training, suffering from a fractured rib that he has reportedly endured since last September. Now, it is important to say that none of these injuries are of the chronic nature like that of a shoulder, knee or hip problem. Two of them are freak injuries too, a hit by pitch causing the fractured wrist and the fractured rib came about by way of an effort play, diving to make a catch in the outfield. But whether or not Judge can stay healthy is becoming an issue nevertheless for the Yankees. It is often said that playing baseball, especially as a position player, is not usually conducive to men of Judges size. At 6’7 and 282lbs, Judge is a gigantic man possessing a swing that is as violent as it is powerful, something that may put added stress on his considerable frame.
As much of a concern it is for his employer, it will undoubtedly be weighing heavily on Judge himself. Judge is a team first guy and he’s a leader too, knowing that for his team to perform to its highest standard it needs him on the field. He is the face of the franchise and it could be argued that he’s the face of baseball too, but for that to truly be the case he has to be on the field.
Another issue for Judge and the Yankees to consider is his future – bearing in mind that he has only two arbitration years left. The two sides successfully avoided arbitration this year but it can be notoriously difficult and has the potential to tarnish the relationship between player and club. Judge is undoubtedly elite and his standing amongst Yankee fans is rock solid as a favourite, but he will be 30 when he hits free agency for the first time and whether the Yankees would be keen to give him a long contract on huge money remains to be seen. If he is healthy and consistently on the field, he makes the decision easy for the Steinbrenners. He is the best player on the team, he’s their leader and if the Yanks are to win title number 28, he will be at the forefront of it.
Aaron Judge has started his career on a Hall of Fame trajectory, that is clear. But for him to completely realise his potential as a first ballot Hall of Famer and all time legendary Yankee, he needs to remain healthy for full seasons – playoffs included. He needs to lead his team to that title that has eluded them for a relatively long time. In 2017 he missed just seven games, so we know that he is capable of enduring a full season. The concern would be that rookie year being an outlier. Aged just 28, time is on the side of Aaron Judge. But an athlete’s greatest gift is their health, something that has repeatedly betrayed him for three years now.