Rays tried, but Aaron Judge couldn’t imagine joining rival Yankees

ST. PETERSBURG — Aaron Judge was expecting a turnaround in the fall of 2022. After breaking Roger Maris’ American League home run record with 62, the power-hitting outfielder entered the offseason as the biggest name on the market.

When he turned down the Yankees’ offer to go into free agency, Judge knew he could at least think about leaving his comfort zone in New York and talking to teams around the country.

“I expected the Giants and Padres to be like that,” Judge, a California native, said Tuesday, “and it was different because they weren’t teams we see all the time (playing in the American League).”

But there was one team Judge didn’t expect to hear from.

“The Rays, that surprised me,” he said. “And just because they were a division rival and I spent my whole career trying to game plan against them.”

Judge confirmed that the Rays have contacted his agent, Paul Odle, to express interest in talking to him, a story first reported in Bryan Hoch’s 2023 book “62.”

The Rays were believed to be willing to talk about a contract lasting around 10 years and worth $300 million.

“It was a very respectful (offer) and I appreciate that they reached out to me and thought well enough of me to do it,” Judge said. “And I respect their team. I respect what they’ve built here. They’ve got a good clubhouse and their team is tough.

“But it was hard for me to think about (playing for them) because I spent my whole career planning to play against them and try to beat them.”

Still, the Rays decided it was worth a try.

Judge and his wife Samantha made Tampa their home this offseason. Aaron has been spotted at Bucs and Lightning games. Given his connection to the community and his status as a generational player, he could become the immediate face of the Rays and change the narrative around the franchise as it tries to build a new stadium and a future in Tampa Bay.

The Rays had made a similar offer the year before, approaching Freddie Freeman’s agent and giving him the parameters under which they could comfortably sign a contract. In that case, the market for the first baseman, who had signed with the Dodgers, was weak enough that the news that the Rays had made an offer became news.

In Judge’s case, the case got lost in the bidding war between the Padres, Giants and Yankees, who ultimately got their captain back on a nine-year, $360 million contract.

Judge, however, still lives in Tampa part-time and has been interested in the Rays’ plans to build a new stadium in the area.

“I go to hockey games at (Amalie Arena) in the offseason and I see the support they have there. I just hope the Rays get a stadium that helps them get that support,” Judge said. “They’ve had a really good team for a couple of years. I hope they can do it.”

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