One month and one day ago, the Yankees placed Aaron Judge on the disabled list with a chip fracture in his right wrist. He was hit by a Jacob Junis fastball — unintentionally — and did actually remain in the game a few more innings before being removed. Judge even picked up a single in his next at-bat before exiting the game. Pretty badass.
The Yankees initially announced Judge’s recovery timetable as three weeks — Aaron Boone said it was “pretty realistic” for Judge to be playing in games three weeks out — and holy cow were they wrong. Three weeks was wildly optimistic. It has been four weeks and one day and Judge still has yet to swing a bat because the wrist is not completely pain-free.
“Through all this, he’s been able to do his upper body training, his upper body work, but we just haven’t gone to the next level of really starting to swing the bat,” said Aaron Boone to Brendan Kuty yesterday. “Because of the way he rotates, we’ve got to get to the point where, because of the fracture, he gets to that point and (the pain is) nonexistent anymore. That’s been trending in the right direction but it’s been something that’s moved kind of slow.”
Boone and the Yankees (and Judge) insist Judge will return this season, which is great. They also said he would be back in three weeks and were incredibly wrong about that. Forgive me for being a little skeptical here. The Yankees do have some time on their side. There are five weeks to go in the regular season. It’s not like the postseason is a week away, you know? That would be bad.
That said, there is a time crunch here. The minor league season ends next Monday, so unless he makes a quick recovery, Judge won’t get to play in rehab games. He’ll have to get up to game speed in simulated games and actual big league games. Knocking off the rust — he’s already missed a month, so there will undoubtedly be rust — will take time. Judge will have hit in the cage, then batting practice, then face live pitching, etc. etc.
There’s also this: 11:59pm ET this Friday is the deadline to acquire a player and have him be eligible for the postseason roster. That is a hard deadline. No loopholes for that one. If the Yankees are going to acquire an outfielder to help replace Judge — something I very much hope they do — it has to happen within the next four days for that player to be eligible to play in October. You know, in case Judge doesn’t return when the Yankees expect (again).
There are two points of no return here. One is Friday. If they don’t get an outfielder by Friday, then their postseason outfielders are the guys in-house. I don’t know where exactly the other point of no return is, but that’s the point where there’s not enough time for Judge to get back to 100%, meaning he runs out of time to knock off all the rust and get back up to speed at the plate. That point exists. I don’t know where, but it does.
And the more time passes in which Judge doesn’t start swinging a bat, the closer we get to that point of no return. Would the Yankees let Judge play hurt if it comes to it? Andrew Miller had this same injury when he got hit by a comebacker in Spring Training 2016, remember. He was able to pitch through it because it was to his non-pitching hand. There is no such thing as a non-hitting hand, unfortunately. Can’t really hit with a broken wrist.
The Yankees hilariously undershot Judge’s recovery timetable and the important thing is they didn’t pull a Mets and mess with his rehab. They didn’t speed things up and try to get him back within those three weeks. Judge needs more time so they’re giving him more time. The team looks kinda silly for the three-week estimate, but whatever. They’ll live. Judge is being given the proper time to heal. That is most important.
There are five weeks to go in the regular season but some time constraints exist. Friday is the last day to add a postseason-eligible outfielder. Next week is the last chance for minor league rehab games. And at some point there won’t be enough time to Judge to get back to 100%. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point, but that point does exist, and it probably isn’t as far as away as we’d like to believe.
Getting another outfielder for depth seems like a no-brainer. But, even if the Yankees do get another outfielder, that outfielder won’t be Aaron Judge. He is damn near irreplaceable. The Yankees need Judge at full strength to have their best chance to win the World Series, and the longer the wrist takes to heal, the less likely it is he’ll be all the way back before the start of the postseason.
“Just gradually starting to introduce some more baseball-type activities as he continues to improve, but not really ready yet to quite get the bat in his hand. But improvement,” Boone added. “I’m confident he’ll be back at full strength.”