By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner held a one-on-one meeting with Aaron Judge to make sure the star free agent slugger knows how much New York wants him back.
“I do believe he wants to be a Yankee. I think we’ve got a good thing going here,” Steinbrenner said Tuesday during a 30-minute question-and-answer session with reporters at the Major League Baseball owners meeting.
Judge turned down an offer from the Yankees ahead of opening day that would have been worth $213.5 million from 2023-29. Steinbrenner said he approved general manager Brian Cashman making the offer public since he thought it would leak out.
Steinbrenner says other commitments wouldn’t restrain the Yankees in talks with Judge.
“We know where we’re at, and I can tell you that that’s not going to stop us,” he said.
Judge set an American League record with 62 homers and tied for the major league lead with 131 RBIs. The likely AL MVP, he has said his preference is to remain with the Yankees.
Steinbrenner met alone with Judge and was involved in two or three other meetings with the right fielder that included others.
“I wanted him to know how I felt in case there was any — what’s the word I’m looking for? — in case there was, any lack of clarity on his part — ambiguity,” Steinbrenner said.
Steinbrenner spoke before it became known that first baseman Anthony Rizzo had agreed to a $40 million, two-year deal subject to a successful physical.
In other news, he said:
— Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza will be given a chance to earn infield jobs during spring training.
— Cashman’s new contract is “just semantics at this point. I’ve told him that I want him back,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s just a matter of salary.”
Judge could become Yankees captain if he stays in the Bronx. Steinbrenner said he envisions Judge as another in a line of Yankees all-time greats, such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Derek Jeter.
“People gravitate toward him. The young players gravitate toward him. And, obviously, our fans, very important to our fans, the fan base, and very important to my family and the organization,” Steinbrenner said. “So I’ve absolutely conveyed that I want him to be the Yankee for the rest of his life. No doubt about that. He knows that. The rest is up to him and his family and where they where they want to go from here. But we’re going to do what we can, I can assure you.”
While there is no set timetable for talks, other negotiations will have an impact.
“I’m not going to be in a position and can’t be in a position to see players start to come off the board, trades start to being made,” Steinbrenner said. “And he understands that.”
New York hasn’t reached the World Series since winning the 2009 title, and Steinbrenner admitted fans were frustrated by the Houston Astros’ four-game sweep in the AL Championship Series.
“We’re not proud of it and we’re not happy about it,” Steinbrenner said.
He said the team has addressed players who didn’t hustle at times, such as when Gleyber Torres failed to run out balls and Josh Donaldson thought a drive down the right-field line was a home run only to get thrown out against Cleveland in the Division Series.
“The fan base expects Yankees to act in a certain way, and I’m sure that upsets them, when something like that happens,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s addressed immediately, Aaron Boone, Cashman and me if I have to get involved.”
New York made an effort to improve defense last offseason and while it was noticeably sharper, Steinbrenner admitted “in the postseason it was not as good as I would have liked to have seen.”
With Judge raising interest, the Yankees drew 3.1 million fans, down from 3.3 million in the last season before COVID-19.
“We’re really almost back at that ’19 levels, which I think is a great accomplishment” Steinbrenner said. “But season tickets are still going to be a question, whether it’s people still worried about COVID.”
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