Playing by Aaron Judge's rules? For once, a player has real power over the Yankees

Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

In the first winter after superstar Albert Pujols shocked the baseball world by leaving the St. Louis Cardinals to sign a monster contract with the Los Angeles Angels, agents recall New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman praising the discipline of the Cardinals' front office, predicting -- correctly -- that the decision would pay off for St. Louis in the long run.

That perspective could be important now, because Cashman and his boss, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, find themselves in a similar position as the Cardinals back then. The Yankees' best and most popular player, Aaron Judge, has reached free agency, and the pressure on the Yankees to pay whatever it takes to retain Judge is enormous, just as St. Louis fans clamored for the Cardinals to pay Pujols.

For perhaps the first time in the Yankees' storied history, the player possesses more leverage than the team. For all of their financial might, built on their enduring popularity with Yankees fans who've been frustrated by the team's postseason struggles in recent years, the Yankees might need the player more than the player needs them.