Addressing the media for the first time this season, Steinbrenner said the Yankees were not going to offer any information regarding contract negotiations with Judge.
"No matter what happens during the season, we're not going to give any updates. We're just not going to," Steinbrenner said Wednesday. "I completely agree with Aaron, and still do, that in no way, shape or form can this be a distraction. So the sole focus is winning a championship. That's all anyone needs to worry about right now."
Steinbrenner was referring to Judge's previous statement that he and his agent, Page Odle, would continue negotiations only after the season so that talks would not be a distraction. As to his level of optimism that Judge and the Yankees could come to an agreement in free agency, Steinbrenner circumvented the topic.
"There's no doubt we're hopeful that is the case, but there's a lot of discussion to be had," he said. "I'm always willing to talk, of course, and we're going to be doing that at one point or another, but we're just not going to be talking about if that happens and when it happens; we're not going to be talking about anything 'til the season's over."
The Yankees avoided an arbitration hearing with Judge by agreeing to a $19 million, one-year contract in late June, after initially being unable to work out a deal on his 2022 salary. The final agreement was exactly between the $21 million Judge asked for and the $17 million the Yankees offered when figures were exchanged March 22.
"We don't wind up in arbitration much at all, and again we were able to avoid that this year as well. This year was different and unique in the fact that it was in-season as a byproduct of the strike/lockout, so it's just nice to get something behind you when the focus really should be not on salaries but on your team competing on a daily basis," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday. "So I know that we and they worked above and beyond to try and get it behind us without actually having a hearing."
Judge, 30, can make an additional $500,000 in award bonuses: $250,000 for MVP and $250,000 for World Series MVP.
"He's extremely talented, he's been a big performer for years now, and obviously, the season he's having has been remarkable. No one wants him to win the MVP more than we do," Cashman said. "We want our players to be the best they can possibly be, and right now he's obviously standing tall. We're proud of him for what he's done thus far and we look forward to him leading us the whole way, hopefully. Him with his teammates."
As the season opened, Judge had expressed his frustration at not finalizing a long-term extension with the Yankees, for whom he repeatedly has said he wants to spend the rest of his major league career. Judge had self-imposed a deadline of Opening Day to come to terms.
Cashman said in April that the team had offered a seven-year, $213.5 million extension, which, paired with the $17 million offered in arbitration this season, would have made the entire package worth just over $230 million.
"We made that public [the previous offer] and conversations about it, but also made a commitment that whatever transpires from that point on will stay quiet and we concentrate on the season," Cashman told reporters Thursday.
Despite the fact that Judge is having a career season, topping the majors with 30 home runs and being named to his fourth career All-Star game after leading all players in All-Star voting, Steinbrenner said the Yankees have "no regrets" about the financial terms of their initial offer.
"We made an offer that I feel was a very good one. It was based on the numbers, of course, but it was also based, in part, on what he means to this organization," Steinbrenner said. "We just didn't get a deal done."
The Yankees entered July with the best record in baseball and are on pace for more than 100 wins. At the halfway point, the Yankees were 58-23 (.716), matching their second-best 81-game start in franchise history, trailing only the 1998 World Series champion Yankees (61-20).
With the Houston Astros being the only other team in the American League currently projected to win more than 100 games, the division leaders may be headed for an October rematch. But despite being eliminated by the Astros in the AL Championship Series in 2017 and again in 2019, and all the bad blood between the clubs deriving from the Astros' sign-stealing scandal, Steinbrenner said there was "definitely no frustration" in potentially having to face Houston once again in the postseason.
"But we all need to be concerned about Houston; they're a very good team. And the games we've played so far have been close games for the most part," Steinbrenner said. "It's going to be a challenge, but it's going to be a challenge for them, too, make no mistake."