After Vague Injury Update, Aaron Judge’s Health Still a Total Mystery

Jesse Pantuosco
May 02, 2020 - 10:11 am

There’s a reason Aaron Judge, one of the most feared power bats in MLB, is still playing on his rookie contract. Well, two reasons actually. For one, the Yankees don’t have to pay him yet. Judge has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining before his 2023 free agency and the team’s other salary commitments (New York’s $220-million payroll is easily the league’s highest) have the Bombers spread fairly thin.

But the biggest reason New York hasn’t backed up the Brink’s truck for the 6’7” masher is because Judge, for all his baseball-obliterating talent, has yet to show he can stay healthy, continually battling nagging injuries including rib and lung ailments that shelved him during the Yankees’ recent spring training. The league’s hiatus would, at least in theory, give the 28-year-old home-run-swatter ample time to recover from his various nicks and bruises. And while the Yankees have echoed exactly that, New York higher-ups have been oddly evasive on the specifics of Judge’s ongoing recovery.

“He’s getting better. He’s getting much, much better,” team president Randy Levine offered in an interview with Fox News Radio. “Last I looked he was healing really well, but I haven’t gotten a report in I would say in about a week, but he’s feeling very good.” Judge sat out the Bombers’ spring slate while feeling the effects of a collapsed lung as well as a broken rib, injuries the former AL Rookie of the Year exacerbated during his offseason training.

“I think the consistent swinging and weightlifting throughout the whole offseason really didn’t give it the chance to [heal],” Judge admitted back in March. “We’ve all been through pain, bumps and bruises. In my head, I felt like it was something that I could fight through and I think that kind of cost me a little bit there.”

While the company line appears to be cautious optimism, third-year skipper Aaron Boone acknowledged he’s not sure where the Yankees right-fielder stands in his recovery. “It’s been very productive to have this time to allow that rib to heal and that is happening,’’ Boone told YES earlier this week. “As to where he’s at exactly, we don’t have anything for you on that yet.’’

Judge broke out in a big way in 2017, setting a rookie record (the mark has since been eclipsed by fellow Big-Apple long-ball artist Pete Alonso) with 52 homers while finishing runner-up to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve in American League MVP voting. But Judge has shown only glimpses of his volcanic power in subsequent years, failing to reach the 30-homer plateau in both the 2018 and ’19 campaigns. Judge’s patented home-run stroke has shined through when healthy, though that’s been a rare occurrence with wrist and shoulder injuries costing him a combined 110 games over the past two seasons.

The Yankees are hoping the down time afforded by America’s coronavirus quarantine will give Judge’s body (all 282 pounds of it) the reset it so desperately needs. But until Judge conquers his long-standing injury demons, fans are left to wonder what the future holds for New York’s brittle slugger.