By Evan Webeck
When it comes to the Giants’ chances of signing Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who better to weigh in than a fellow Northern California native with a little experience in big paydays and bigger home runs?
Barry Bonds, the home run king, signed with his hometown Giants in free agency in 1993. Now, with Linden’s own closing in on the American League home run record and free agency soon thereafter, Bonds says Judge should follow in his footsteps and come home to slug for his childhood team, which would certainly love to have him. (Price tag: say, $300 million?)
“I hope he signs here,” Bonds, who works for the Giants in an advisory capacity, told Sportico. “Can it happen? I don’t know. It depends on what the Yankee payroll is. But we would love to have him, I’ll tell you that. … We in the Bay Area — he’s a Bay Area boy — we hope they don’t sign him, and we can get him. I would. He’s that good.”
Judge, who turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension from the Yankees before this season, could command triple what Bonds signed for in 1994, even after accounting for inflation. Bonds’ contract, in today’s dollars: $91.3 million over six years. He earned a total estimated $193 million over his 22-year career, according to Spotrac, or less than what Judge already passed up.
The Giants, however, have money to spend.
Folks in the front office and ownership, while careful to avoid tampering charges, haven’t been shy about their intentions this offseason. (And as enticing as Bonds may be as a recruiting tool, the Giants would be best served to make their pitch with Rich Aurilia, Judge’s idol growing up.)
“We have a lot of flexibility coming into this offseason,” Giants chairman Greg Johnson said on a recent Zoom call. “We’re well aware of the shortstops and the person who can hit in the Bronx that (are) out there. … We’re well aware that we’ve got some gaps that need to be addressed.”
“We do have payroll room because we’re a big market, and we have contracts that are ending this offseason,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told reporters last week. “So there’ll be a lot of good options for us.”
If not Judge, then perhaps one of the shortstops Johnson alluded to: the Dodgers’ Trea Turner and Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson are set to hit free agency, while the Twins’ Carlos Correa and Boston’s Xander Boegarts are expected to opt out of their contracts and become available, too. (Brandon Crawford, 35, is under contract through 2023.)
Judge’s pursuit of 61 has reignited the debate over the validity of Bonds’ 73. (As for Bonds’ take, “Go for it,” he told Sportico. “The way he swings he might as well hit one a day and get past me. I don’t care. Why not?”)
ESPN’s Buster Olney garnered attention this week in an appearance on the network’s morning show, “Get Up.” He claimed that Judge — whose .315 average, 60 home runs and 128 RBIs put him on pace for the AL triple crown — was having “the greatest single-season performance by any hitter in the history of baseball.”
Besides questions over Bonds’ PED use, Olney presents the undisputed argument of the quality of pitching Judge is facing today, where triple-digit heaters are routine and wipeout sliders are merely a ticket to entry in major-league bullpens, versus what Bonds faced at the height of his career.
Just one example: the average fastball velocity in 2002, the first year of data available and one year after Bonds’ record-setting 73-homer season, was 89.0 mph; in 2022, it is 93.6 mph.
“Because of how difficult hitting has become,” Olney said. “… It’s absolutely incredible. We’ve never seen anything like it.”
But another undeniable point: Judge is seeing more pitches in the strike zone than Bonds did at his peak.
During his four MVP seasons from 2001-04, Bonds saw more than 50% strikes one year (2002), when the league average is above 60%. His record of 120 intentional walks in 2004 may be even more unreachable than his home run records; the next-closest player not named Bonds had nearly three times fewer (Willie McCovey, 45, 1969). That season, more than a quarter — 27.6% — of his trips to the plate went to 3-0 counts. He registered 617 plate appearances, but only 373 at-bats.
Judge? A 58.8 strike percentage this season. Seventeen intentional walks, or 103 away from that record.
Asked about Boston’s approach this weekend against Judge, with him approaching history, manager Alex Cora responded, “At one point he’s going to hit it, so we’re going to attack him the same way we’ve done the whole season.”
The simplest answer may simply be to look to OPS+, a ballpark-adjusted metric that measures hitters against their peers. So, Bonds against his similarly juiced competition, facing the same poor pitching; Judge’s season in context of a league with its lowest batting average since 1968.
By that metric, it would be the greatest single-season performance … since Bonds’ reign from ’01-’04, which featured the top three seasons by OPS+ in major-league history. (Ruth had a 225 OPS+ in his 60-homer season; Maris’ when he got 61: 167.)
Judge, 2022: .315 AVG*, 60 HR*, 128 RBI*, 215 OPS+*
Bonds, 2004: .362 AVG*, 45 HR, 101 RBI, 263 OPS+*
Bonds, 2003: .341 AVG, 45 HR, 90 RBI, 231 OPS+*
Bonds, 2002: .370 AVG*, 46 HR, 110 RBI, 268 OPS+*
Bonds, 2001: .328 AVG, 73 HR*, 137 RBI, 259 OPS+*
It’s possible we’ll never see anything like that again.
But could there be any better replica than Judge in a Giants uniform?
Source: Paradise Post