Inside Story: How Giants lose Aaron Judge to Yankees after a call from Italy

Aaron Judge

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Many had thought that the Giants were the favorites to sign Aaron Judge. But the reigning American League MVP chose to return to the New York Yankees on a reported nine-year, $360 million contract. The San Francisco team was still in the race right up to the last minute and had deployed a 30-person team to entice away the slugger from New York.

The Giants had been preparing for months to make their best offer to bring Aaron Judge home. The power hitter was given a tour of Oracle Park and the Bay Area. After that, many people in the organization were ready to welcome him to the team. But how things turned the tide in favor of the Yankees allowing them to defeat the Giants.

The Giants didn’t want Aaron Judge’s visit to be known to the public, and they didn’t even admit it happened until this week when the Winter Meetings started in San Diego. Judge and his wife, Samantha, arrived in Oakland on the afternoon of November 21. They had lunch with team officials and then took a tour of possible future homes before being driven across the Bay Bridge for dinner at Oracle Park and a night in the city.

The plan was to sneak him into the St. Regis hotel, but Aaron Judge’s side decided at the last minute that he would get out of the car and go through the lobby. A woman with a cell phone was waiting, and soon everyone in the business world knew that Judge was in San Francisco to meet with the Giants.

More than two dozen Giants team members helped in some way to get ready for Judge’s visit, but most of the two-day meeting was spent just talking with Judge, who surprised team members with how detailed his questions were. This time, the team had a home-field advantage because of Judge’s background. They flew him home just in time for the holiday, and for two days in San Francisco, they pulled out all the stops.

On the first night, there was a group dinner at the Gotham Club with a private chef and sommelier from Napa, a tour of the ballpark, and a surprise visit from Rich Aurilia, Judge’s childhood hero. The next day, after talking for hours about a wide range of topics, Aaron Judge was put in touch with Steph Curry, who joined the process of recruiting by text.

The Giants thought the trip went about as well as it could have, and many of the people who came with them to San Diego on Monday thought they were tied with the Yankees for the chance to sign Aaron Judge. Monday, the business world began to change the odds in favor of San Francisco, but Farhan Zaidi, the president of baseball operations, said he never got caught up in expectations.

The Giants haven’t tried to sign a big-name free agent in 30 years, and when they did, they knew they were up against an overwhelming favorite. They asked the reigning Most Valuable Player of the American League to leave the team with the most history and the most fans.

Even though the odds were against them, there were times when the Giants thought they would be successful. Their team culture had been built around a homegrown superstar for years, and they were asking Aaron Judge, a similar type of superstar, to leave the New York Yankees.

At 5 a.m. on Wednesday, the dream came crashing down. Zaidi couldn’t sleep because he knew Aaron Judge was close to making a decision that would change the next 10 years for the two teams. Zaidi was tossing and turning in his hotel room in San Diego when he heard his phone ring. He saw a new message from Page Odle and David Matranga, who represent Aaron Judge.

“It’s rarely good news when the phone rings at 5 a.m.,” Zaidi said a few hours later.

Odle and Matranga told Zaidi that the outfielder would be going back to the Yankees. The news spread quickly on social media. Aaron Judge had agreed to a nine-year, $360 million deal, which was a record salary for a position player.

Zaidi said the end result was disappointing for a team that wanted to build around a star player who grew up cheering for the Giants. He said this as he sat high above the San Diego harbor at the Manchester Grand Hyatt on Wednesday.

“That was a pretty strong force that we were up against,” he said of the Yankees. “We’re really disappointed that we weren’t able to overcome it but you can understand it. We have to obviously move on to other things, but sure, there’s a sense of disappointment, but you always know it’s a possibility.”

Zaidi said that he was “really happy for Aaron and his family.” Some of Aaron’s family still lives in Linden, which is two hours away from Oracle Park. He thought Judge and his agents kept in touch well the whole time, and he thanked them for how they did their jobs.

The Giants always thought Judge was serious about wanting to play for them, and for most of the first two days of the winter meetings, people in the business said it was a real toss-up between the Giants and the Yankees. In the end, though, the price was set by the Giants’ best offer.

But late Tuesday night, things went in the Yankees’ favor when they made a last but big push. Several sources say that Hal Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees, talked to Aaron Judge late Tuesday night and raised his offer to $360 million. A person who knows about the talks said that the Giants’ final offer was about the same as before.

Hal Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees, was in Italy when he called Aaron Judge and asked him:

“Would you like to be a Yankee?”

The slugger told him that he still wanted to do it, and Steinbrenner asked what it would take to sign him.

Judge asked the Yankees to at least meet the offer made by the Giants. Steinbrenner said yes right away.

The Yankees got the guy they wanted.

The end came quickly, but there was one more dramatic moment. Late Tuesday night, the Giants heard that Aaron Judge had flown into town to meet with the rival San Diego Padres, who were reportedly willing to offer closer to $400 million. Some people in the organization spent the last few minutes before midnight looking at San Diego’s payroll commitments and wondering if they would add another superstar. However, this was a short-lived hope.

In 2017, the Giants had tried hard to get Giancarlo Stanton, but he ended up going to the Yankees anyway. In the offseason of the same year, the Giants sent a big group to Los Angeles to try to get Shohei Ohtani to play for them but in vain. But losing Aaron Judge would hurt him the most. They lost a hometown superstar, who is not easy to locate in the MLB.

(Source credit: NBCS Sports/ Alex Pavlovic)

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