SAN DIEGO — There were plenty of whispers, hints, gossip and false rumors Tuesday, but as the baseball world anxiously awaited Tuesday night, Aaron Judge has yet to decide whether he will spend the rest of his baseball career.
That decision, which will make Judge the highest-paid free agent in baseball history, could be announced as early as Wednesday as the baseball winter meetings conclude in San Diego.
The San Francisco Giants’ optimism was growing Tuesday, and the New York Yankees’ anxiety was increasing, but officials directly involved in the negotiations insisted that Judge has not made a decision.
Yet, for the first time, officials from each team believe that it will no longer be a matter of finances, but a lifestyle choice.
Does Judge want to remain a Yankee, a team that has won 27 World Series championships and produced 25 consecutive winning seasons, but has one of the most intense environments in sports where even the greatest players can be booed with regularity?
Or does he want the relaxed environment playing out West in San Francisco, just two hours away from his hometown, where he could forever be adored, no matter what his stats look like on the back of his baseball cards.
“We have a very passionate fan base,’’ Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “That passion is matched by the members of our front office, our clubhouse staff, our coaching staff, everybody up and down the organization. …
“I think we’re a very well-funded, very well-led, very progressive organization that expects to compete for National League West titles perennially. And a support staff that has shown to be really good at getting the best out of players and helping players advance in their careers and acquire more opportunities.
“So, yeah, a lot’s at stake.’’
The slight betting favorite for Judge has shifted from New York to San Francisco, but only Judge and those in his inner circle clearly know his intentions.
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The Giants are hoping.
The Yankees are praying.
“I know nothing, I really don’t,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “We haven’t heard anything. I know it’s been obviously an ongoing negotiation.’’
Still, the nervousness in the Yankees’ camp was reflected when a false rumor hit Twitter that Judge decided to sign with the Giants, sending the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel into a frenzy.
It took about three minutes for it to be refuted by the Giants, while the Yankees were immediately assured by Judge’s representatives that no decision was made. Three officials also informed USA TODAY Sports that no decision had been made.
“That was uncomfortable,’’ Boone said. “I called [GM Brian Cashman] and asked him, “What’s going on?’ He told me, ‘Nothing.’’’
And for now, there’s nothing for the two teams to do but wait, as excruciating as it may be.
“These last couple of days and the winter meetings always provide that sense of urgency with the whole industry here,’’ Boone said. “A lot of the conversations that have gone on starting back in the GM meetings start to come to fruition here.
“Obviously, we have an amazing player, an amazing person that’s a free agent for us. So that becomes a little bit more of a big deal, especially in these few days.’’
The Yankees plan to make Judge their team captain if he returns, and even reserve a spot in Monument Park for Yankee immortals.
The Giants plan to make him their most celebrated hero since Barry Bonds, who signed his record six-year, $43.75 million free-agent contract 30 years ago, and became baseball’s all-time home run king.
Boone, who keeps in regular contact with Judge, agrees with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner’s sentiments that Judge still wants to be a Yankee.
“I’ve always felt that way with Aaron,’’ Boone said, “and I always feel like he certainly belongs in pinstripes. A guy of his stature and his greatness hopefully spends his entire career into Monument Park and into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee.’’
Still, there are warning signs. Judge reiterated in a Time magazine article — where he was honored as the athlete of the year — his frustration of the Yankees divulging their seven-year, $213.5 million contract that he rejected before opening day.
“We kind of said, “Hey, let’s keep this between us,’’’ Judge said. “I was a little upset that the numbers came out. I understand it’s a negotiation tactic. Put pressure on me. Turn the fans against me, turn the media on me.
“That part of it I didn’t like.’’
Judge bet on himself, and won big.
Real big, to the tune of more than $330 million, topping Bryce Harper’s record free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
He went onto win the American League MVP award, hitting an American League record 62 home runs, and becoming a living, breathing New York icon.
So, if Judge departs, it will a tactic by the Yankees that greatly backfired.
“He and I talked a little bit about it right at the season’s end,’’ Boone said, “kind of walked through that a little bit. So, I knew that he was a little disappointed about that. …
“I don’t think it was anything intended to be a tactic or anything, because we knew it was going to be constantly speculated on and out there, and we just didn’t want that to be the case.
“We kind of wanted to run to the situation.’’
And perhaps hide.
“I don’t think that’s a factor in anything going on,’’ Boone said. “I think the negotiation is going to be what it is. … You just try and be as authentic as you can.’’
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yankees, Giants wait for Aaron Judge’s free-agency decision
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