Sports

Where should Aaron Judge sign? Ranking all 30 MLB teams

With all the speculation about where Aaron Judge will sign, what about the question of where he should sign?

The question is complicated. First of all, there is only one opinion that ultimately matters: Judge’s. To apply our own factors is to make wild assumptions about his decision-making process.

But, hey, it’s sports, and we do this sort of thing all the time. When you are talking about a player of Judge’s stature — one of the game’s brightest stars, one who puts butts in seats and moves merchandise — it’s a question worth asking. Each time a star like this hits free agency, it is a test case for the various underlying factors that drive the MLB offseason.

With this in mind, I created what I’m calling a Fit Rating. It’s just like it sounds. I considered five factors and then rated each franchise for its most recent numbers in those categories. I’ve given each category a score of one, two or three as a weighting factor, where three is the most important and one is the least. The final ratings ranged from 91 to 121.7, with 100 being average.

The five factors:

Market: Based mostly on the population of each franchise’s media market, with adjustments to reflect that teams in shared markets don’t necessarily have identical market shares. The indexes in this category get two points of weighting.

Ballpark: Which parks are best for Judge? I based this conclusion on Statcast figures for expected home runs based on venue, using five years of data. Last season, Judge hit 62 homers, as we all know. According to Statcast, that figure would have been 73 had Judge played all his games at Great American Park in Cincinnati. If he had played at Comerica Park in Detroit, the figure would have been 51. This is another two-point category.

Payroll: Yes, there is an overlap here with media market sizes, but not entirely. Some teams spend above expectations, others do not. I figured a standard score for each team’s Opening Day payroll over the past 15 seasons, based on data from Cot’s Contracts. I used an average of the top three seasons. This is a three-point category.

Geography: Judge attended high school in Linden, California, as did his wife. He has spent his entire big league career calling Yankee Stadium home. So I figured the distance of each big league park from these two venues — Linden High School and Yankee Stadium — and took the lesser distance as the basis for figuring the score in this category. The closer the better. This is just a one-point category in the weighting — the least important factor.

Consistency: This considers how much teams have won recently (average wins per 162 games over the last three seasons) but also the average going back over the last 15 years. We are looking to balance the consideration of which teams win consistently with those best positioned to win now. This is a three-point category.

After all of this has been rated and mashed together, here’s how the rankings ended up.

Jump to … :
The Big 3 | They could make a strong case
It’s a reach | Dream on

The Big 3

1. New York Yankees

Fit rating: 121.7
Best fits: Everything
Worst fits: None

The Yankees’ lowest score was for ballpark fit, but even there, Yankee Stadium ranked eighth. Every other category had the Bombers first or second, with the Dodgers being the only team to win at a high level more consistently in the recent past. There are other unratable factors that ought to favor a Judge-Yankees reunion: familiarity, personal relationships, loyalty, etc. But the measurables also see the Yankees as Judge’s best option.


2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Fit rating: 120.2
Best fits: Everything
Worst fits: None

Like the Yankees, the Dodgers are a slam dunk fit. Dodger Stadium is the third-best fit among the venues. (Statcast says Judge would have hit 69 homers there last season.) The Dodgers are in a huge market, have immense financial resources, are based in Judge’s home state and are by far the most successful team on the field over the past 15 years (at least in terms of regular-season dominance).


3. New York Mets

Fit rating: 112.4
Best fits: Market, Payroll, Geography
Worst fits: Ballpark, Consistency

Citi Field is a drawback, ranking 15th among the venues. And the Mets have been a fairly inconsistent franchise over the years, especially coming from baseball’s largest market. But it’s a new day in Flushing under Steve Cohen’s ownership, so even as the Mets rate as a top-tier fit, the real scores may have them even closer to the Yankees and Dodgers than what’s indicated here.

They could make a strong case

4. Philadelphia Phillies

Fit rating: 107.5
Best fits: Market, Payroll, Geography
Worst fits: Consistency

One note on geography that applies not only to Philly but also most of the teams in the majors: The reality is that outside of the teams with obvious geographical advantages (Yankees, Mets, Giants and Athletics), this is probably a nonfactor. Would Judge really pick the Phillies because Citizens Bank Park is relatively close to Yankee Stadium? Probably not. That’s why this category got only one point in the weighting process. Still, Philadelphia has a lot going for it. The Phillies haven’t won consistently, but they are also coming off a World Series appearance, which could wash that factor out in Judge’s eyes.


5. Boston Red Sox

Fit rating: 105.8
Best fits: Payroll, Geography, Success
Worst fits: Ballpark

Judge’s typical swing plane, which has generated so many homers to center and right-center, actually works against Fenway Park, which ranks just 25th among the venues according to Statcast, at least over a five-year period. But Judge was more pull-conscious last season and perhaps could become even more so if he had the Green Monster to aim at on a nightly basis.


6. Los Angeles Angels

Fit rating: 105.6
Best fits: Market, Ballpark, Payroll
Worst fits: Consistency

The Angels’ lack of on-field success works against them, so they’d really have to blow away the market to land Judge. The Halos have done just that with premium free agents in the past under Arte Moreno, but now the team is reportedly embarking on a sale process. So there is a lot in Anaheim that is uncertain.


7. Toronto Blue Jays

Fit rating: 105.6
Best fits: Market, Consistency
Worst fits: Ballpark, Payroll

Toronto is actually a pretty big market, and the Jays are well-positioned for a sustained run of success. Still feels like a reach for the formula to rank the Jays above some of the teams that follow. Hey, you make a formula as well as you can, trust the process, and live with the results. Just like a ballplayer.


8. Atlanta Braves

Fit rating: 104.9
Best fits: Market, Consistency
Worst fits: Ballpark, Geography

Truist Park would be an issue based on Judge’s traditional swing but actually would have boosted him in 2022 (64 homers), so maybe that’s a nonfactor. Really the best thing working for the Braves is that the franchise has been a consistent winner and is poised to remain so for a long time to come.


9. Houston Astros

Fit rating: 104.5
Best fits: Ballpark, Consistency
Worst fits: Geography

Houstonians love their homes deep in the heart of Texas but in terms of our method of rating the geography of the venues, Minute Maid Park is the worst fit, as it is very far away from Linden and the Bronx alike. Still, the Astros win, and Judge would be able to take aim at the Crawford Boxes. A frightening proposition.


10. Chicago White Sox

Fit rating: 104.4
Best fits: Market, Ballpark
Worst fits: Payroll, Geography

Talk about the perfect finishing piece for the White Sox. But Judge’s eventual contract likely will net him somewhere in the neighborhood of $350 million, and that’s not a neighborhood in which the White Sox tend to play, even though Chicago is a big market.


11. San Francisco Giants

Fit rating: 103.3
Best fits: Geography, Payroll, Consistency, Market
Worst fits: Ballpark

I thought very seriously about adding a category called “Judge’s favorite boyhood team” as I thought about Judge’s comments during the season about watching Barry Bonds every night when he was growing up. I would have given the Giants 120 points and every other team 90. Ultimately, I decided against it. This where it is so hard to judge (no pun intended) someone’s priorities from the outside. For me, as someone who grew up rooting for the Royals, having a chance to play for them would be a huge factor. I can’t say this is true for Judge and the Giants. Still, it’s not nothing, right? And the Giants have a lot more resources than the Royals. Oracle Park isn’t the ideal venue for Judge, but the Giants rate in the top third of the other categories. However, they aren’t elite in any of the categories beyond geography, so their Fit Rating came out lower than might have been expected.


12. Chicago Cubs

Fit rating: 103.1
Best fits: Market, Payroll
Worst fits: Ballpark, Consistency, Geography

Once again, the ballpark factor here might be a little misleading because of Judge’s swing evolution. Last season, Statcast thinks Judge would have hit 63 homers at Wrigley Field. Goodness knows, it would be awfully fun to see what Judge could do on warm summer days with the wind blowing out at the Friendly Confines.

It’s a reach

13. Cleveland Guardians

Fit rating: 102.8
Best fits: Consistency
Worst fits: Market, Ballpark

The Guardians are a consistent winner. But they do it by staying away from massive investments in one player, such as they’d have to make to catch Judge’s attention.


14. Tampa Bay Rays

Fit rating: 101.9
Best fits: Consistency
Worst fits: Everything else

The Rays do win, but a Tampa Bay payroll with Judge in the fold would create the need for a descriptor more extreme than the commonly used “top-heavy.” (I should note that even though the Judges reportedly spend most of their offseason in Tampa, I did not figure the distances from that area for the Geography category. Sorry, Rays and Marlins. The assumption here is that in addition to the many reasons one would want to live in Tampa, the baseball part of the decision has more to do with the location of the Yankees’ spring training facility than proximity to Tropicana Field.)


15. Seattle Mariners

Fit rating: 101.9
Best fits: Ballpark
Worst fits: Payroll, Geography

T-Mobile Park ranks 12th among the venues, but everything else is in the middle of the pack.


16. Washington Nationals

Fit rating: 101.0
Best fits: Ballpark, Payroll, Geography
Worst fits: Consistency

A Judge contract is a long-term proposition, but how much of that pact would Judge have to endure while waiting to find out if the Nats’ current rebuilding plan is going to work out?


17. San Diego Padres

Fit rating: 101.0
Best fits: Geography
Worst fits: Market

Rating the Padres on anything like this is hard because as a franchise, they tend to be so unpredictable. In this case, you’d have to think that if they signed Judge, it would be part of a plan to let Juan Soto walk when the time comes. It doesn’t seem like a very good plan.


18. St. Louis Cardinals

Fit rating: 100.8
Best fits: Consistency
Worst fits: Ballpark, Market

The Cardinals just don’t get into megacontract territory. They trade for stars (Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado) and have faith that their clubhouse dynamic and the baseball culture in St. Louis will help them keep those stars. That approach has worked very well, but the last time I checked, they had not traded for Judge.


19. Texas Rangers

Fit rating: 100.6
Best fits: Ballpark, Market, Payroll
Worst fits: Consistency, Geography

The Rangers’ new ballpark would have netted Judge 68 homers last season, according to Statcast. The Rangers seem intent on moving into baseball’s top tier and seem willing to spend to get there. Nothing would proclaim a new era of relevance in Arlington than signing Judge. The Rangers have not won consistently, but this fit isn’t completely far-fetched.


20. Cincinnati Reds

Fit rating: 100.3
Best fits: Ballpark
Worst fits: Everything else

OK, the Reds don’t make much sense except for that ballpark. If Judge wants to pile up as many long balls as he can, this is the place to do it. According to Statcast, he would have hit 62 homers there — in 2017. Last season, he would have been taking aim at Barry Bonds’ single-season MLB record.


21. Milwaukee Brewers

Fit rating: 100.3
Best fits: Ballpark, Consistency
Worst fits: Market, Payroll, Geography

The Brewers are a solid, successful, well-run franchise, but they aren’t going to spend $350 million on Judge.

Dream on

22. Baltimore Orioles

Fit rating: 98.9
Best fits: Geography, Ballpark
Worst fits: Market, Consistency

Maybe the Orioles could offer to move their fences back in again if Judge would sign?


23. Arizona Diamondbacks

Fit rating: 98.8
Best fits: Payroll
Worst fits: Consistency

Even the best fit here doesn’t work. The Diamondbacks have had periods where they have extended payroll, so when you approach that subject with a concept like “payroll capacity,” they end up in the upper half of the majors. But Arizona is in a more austere era and likely won’t be wooing Judge.


24. Oakland Athletics

Fit rating: 98.7
Best fits: Geography
Worst fits: Everything else

Oakland’s much-decried ballpark is the closest in the majors to Linden High School’s. But the A’s are also trying their best to get away from it as soon as possible. Beyond geography, Oakland doesn’t have much to offer Judge.


25. Colorado Rockies

Fit rating: 98.7
Best fits: Ballpark
Worst fits: Everything else

The Rockies probably could splurge on Judge if they wanted to from a money perspective. It’s a great market, and Judge could put up comic-book numbers at Coors Field. But the Rockies haven’t spent consistently, nor have they won consistently. I just don’t see it happening.


26. Minnesota Twins

Fit rating: 96.4
Best fits: Consistency
Worst fits: Everything else

Maybe if Judge were looking for a short-term, flexibility-laden megadeal like the one Carlos Correa inked with the Twins last spring … but, no. Ain’t happening. The situations are completely different, especially since because Judge is already 30 and can’t bank on ever occupying this stature in free agency again.


27. Detroit Tigers

Fit rating: 95.8
Best fits: Payroll
Worst fits: Ballpark

The one factor working in Detroit’s favor is that in the past, the Tigers have stretched payroll well beyond what you’d expect given the market. But the owner who authorized that expenditure is no longer with us, and his son is running the team in a way more in line with the realities of the region. Besides, the Tigers are nowhere near the place on the success cycle they’d need to be in for a blockbuster offer to Judge to make sense.


28. Miami Marlins

Fit rating: 94.2
Best fits: None
Worst fits: Everything

Well, Giancarlo Stanton did get a megadeal from this franchise, though he ended up as Judge’s teammate in the Bronx. But, come on, it’s the Marlins.


29. Pittsburgh Pirates

Fit rating: 91.7
Best fits: Geography
Worst fits: Everything else

Anytime you are feeling blue, imagine yourself as the GM of the Pirates and you are calling up owner Bob Nutting with the idea of offering Aaron Judge a $400 million contract. Things could always be worse.


30. Kansas City Royals

Fit rating: 91.0
Best fits: None
Worst fits: Everything

As mentioned, I grew up a Royals fan. And the fact that there are players in MLB whom you simply cannot imagine signing with the Royals is kind of a bummer. Let’s face it, though, you simply can’t fathom the attempt even being made. So, hey, John Sherman … shock us all.

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