Ever since he first swung his mighty bat in the Spring of 2017, the weight of the world has been on Aaron Judge's shoulders. As a rookie, he homered an incredible 52 times and came oh-so-close to being named AL MVP that year. As he's gotten older and his stroke has gotten wiser, speculation has abounded about where he would go once he became a free agent. In the end, after a tense bidding war's last embers had simmered, Judge signed with the Yankees for a near-record $360 million over nine years.
With great money comes great responsibility and the Yankees followed that astonishing figure by bestowing upon him the captaincy, a rare and distinguished honor for the club. But no one knew how he would do come opening day.
Expectations do wonders to the human psyche. While some fold under the pressure, others thrive. Expectations come in many different forms. Often, it comes in championships won, but money has a way of increasing those expectations. Through the mid-1990s and deep into the new millennium, the Washington Redskins/Commanders have bestowed untold millions on high-priced free agents only to see them squander their potential in gluttony and laziness. Players such as Dana Stubblefield, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Albert Haynesworth top a very, very long list of those who failed to live up to the expectations spelled out in Dan Snyder's checkbook.
Much of this can be dismissed as a reflection of poor management and a toxic work environment. Over the years, recently departed employees have complained about the work environment, putting a big fat smudge on the franchise's otherwise stellar reputation.
The sports world is loaded with contracts that baffle the mind. Contracts such as Patrick Mahomes who signed for more than $500 million over ten years. Of course, he had already proven his worth at the time, having already earned a league MVP and a Lombardi Trophy. The Chiefs saw his character and everyday greatness up close. They knew the kinds of players that he would gel with and the kind of system that would help him blossom into quite possibly the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen. And so, they told him as much with the digits on his paycheck. Two years later, he honored that contract by earning another league MVP and Lombardi Trophy. Clearly, the Chiefs knew who they were signing.
And who can forget Mike Trout? Once in a blue moon, a generation may find a player that transcends the sport and has the ability to lift the whole institution to new heights but at the same time is a tragic player who can never get his team over the Hump and deep into the postseason. Mike Trout fits that profile to the letter. Having already earned a league MVP and blasting home runs at a record pace, one would assume that he had already made numerous deep playoff runs before signing for $426,500,000 spread out over a dozen years. One who assumes that would be incorrect. His Angels teams have yet to win even a single playoff game while struggling to win games under the power of his mighty bat. Nothing has changed since he signed that massive contract back in 2019, even after the club signed Japanese dual-threat sensation Shohei Ohtani.
Of course, any talk of Aaron Judge's recent haul wouldn't be complete without at least mentioning Alex Rodriguez. The shortstop/third baseman signed a then-record $275 million deal that was spread out over a decade, sending shockwaves throughout the major leagues in 2008. He would back up the expectations that burdened his broad back by winning the World Series in 2009 and earning three more All-Star nods in his last eight years as an athlete.
As Aaron Judge slammed that little white ball deep into the bleachers in his first at-bat after signing his long-awaited contract, a torch was passed from him to the pitcher who threw him that fated ball. Currently playing on a one-year deal, Logan Webb will soon have a decision to make in terms of his long-term future... as well as the expectations that he believes he can handle.