Major League Baseball
As Yankees face Giants on Opening Day, all eyes are on Aaron Judge
Major League Baseball

As Yankees face Giants on Opening Day, all eyes are on Aaron Judge

Updated Mar. 30, 2023 3:40 p.m. ET

Opening Day is here, and Aaron Judge will begin this season like he ended the last one: with everyone looking in his direction.

That's what happens when you smash 62 home runs and a bunch of records along the way, and when you land a whopper of a contract valued at $360 million, and when you become the captain of the New York Yankees.

Shohei Ohtani is the best and most fascinating player in baseball, but as the MLB campaign gears up for a busy first act, Judge is the most visible, on account of the season he's coming off, the market he plays in, the expectations of the team he plays for and yeah, all those zeroes on his hard-earned contract.

For some extra spice, there is a delicious little storyline to blast things off with, a devilish twist that sees the Yankees begin their year against the San Francisco Giants, the team that took a hefty swing at prying Judge away from the Bronx over the winter.


"This (Opening Day) is a bigger stage than I think people are even giving it credit for," Giants manager Gabe Kapler told reporters.

The Giants went in big for Judge, confident they could sway him. The money they offered essentially reset his market, with an offer of $40 million per year over nine seasons, besting the Yankees' original carrot of the same annual amount spread over eight.

Although the San Diego Padres ultimately proposed a reported $400 million over 10 years, Judge opted to remain in the Big Apple when Hal Steinbrenner agreed to match what was being offered in the Bay Area.

It was a disappointment for the Giants, for whom a Judge signing would have been transformative, and who thought the chance for the slugger to return to his Californian roots would come into play.

From being seemingly poised to instantly become one of the most relevant teams in baseball, San Francisco is instead being projected for something similar to the 81-81 record it managed last season. An attempt to land Carlos Correa on a mega-money deal also fell apart due to medical concerns.

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"I think athletes look for every additional source of motivation and any sense that people feel that this was a player we needed and we can't win without him just creates extra motivation," Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told reporters.

San Francisco is trying to catch up to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who won 111 games last year, and the huge-spending Padres, who beat L.A. in the postseason.

Judge, meanwhile, has no shortage of motivation of his own. He is, in a strange kind of sense, being doubted. Rare is the observer who thinks he'll flirt with 60 home runs again. Because rare is it that a player follows that sort of historic campaign with another booming season.

Time will tell if his relentless slugging can sustain the same levels he reached in 2022. 

Pressure exists for the Yankees. It has been a bright and breezy spring, with much anticipation surrounding the elevation of rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe to the starting lineup, a feel-good story that hasn't entirely obscured pressing realities.

[Anthony Volpe is the Yankees' future. He was built by his Team USA past]

Manager Aaron Boone isn't necessarily looking over his shoulder after last season's 4-0 flameout to the Houston Astros in the ALCS, but being in pinstripes confers its own level of requirement, from ownership and fan base combined.

Judge understands how it works and is a fan of Boone, liking the skipper's spirit and occasionally angered edge.

"Not too many managers in this game have multiple 100-win seasons and done what he's done the last couple of years," Judge said recently. "You just look at how he talks about this team, how his players react to him. He fights for us on a daily basis, and he's in our corner through and through."

It's time for a fight again. Fourteen years have passed since the Yankees have appeared in a World Series and the locals are getting restless. Last year promised much before descending into an odd limbo, with a spectacular start followed by a 35-35 end to the year that was overshadowed by Judge's chase down of Roger Maris.

As always, Opening Day is a special time of the year, more hectic than ever in 2023 with everyone involved — the first occasion since 1968 that each team will participate on day one.

Eyes on everyone, then, but on no one more than Judge, who knows there is more to do, and somehow, still something to prove.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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