TAMPA — A pinstriped update on the 2019 Home Run Derby, in the wake of Thursday’s announcement there will be $2.5 million in prize money, including $1 million for the winner, added to the proceedings:
— Aaron Judge is very likely out.
— Giancarlo Stanton is a maybe.
— Brett Gardner is in.
“I’m in the Derby,” Gardner proclaimed loudly to The Post, despite attempts to ignore him and interview Stanton instead. “I’m doing the Derby this year.”
OK, players still have to get invited, and the beloved lifelong Yankee who set a personal single-season high two years ago when he went deep 21 times probably won’t make the cut, which prompted Gardner’s self-deprecating crack.
On the other hand, Major League Baseball probably would have agreed to expand team rosters to 27 players next year, rather than merely 26, if the 2017 Derby champion Judge had committed in advance to this year’s event in Cleveland.
Alas, Judge clearly believes, even if he won’t come out and say it, his title in Miami two years ago at least contributed to the left shoulder injury that required a cleanup surgery the subsequent offseason. So though he offered praise for this innovation — “I wish they would’ve made this change a couple of years ago,” he said with a smile — he’s not ready to jump back into this pool.
“I’d consider it,” said Judge, who will earn a salary of $684,300 this year, “but I’d probably still wait until it’s back in New York.”
The Yankees last played host to the Midsummer Classic and the Derby in 2008, the year the old Yankee Stadium closed. It’s reasonable to think the new Stadium will get a shot during Judge’s career, and if the third-year Yankee signs a long-term deal to stay and makes clear his intention to slug it out with his contemporaries as long as he’s healthy, that only can help the cause.
Stanton — the 2016 champion at San Diego’s Petco Park who tried to defend his crown in his own Marlins Park the next season, only to fall short to future teammate Gary Sanchez — said the prize money wouldn’t impact his decision, which makes sense when you consider $1 million represents 0.3 percent of the $325 million contract he’s currently working through.
“I always enjoy doing it,” Stanton said. “It just depends on where I’m at in the season and how I feel. That’s the most important thing.”
Baseball obviously hopes the prize money draws in bigger and better names. Last year, at Nationals Park, the powers that be lucked out when Nats superstar Bryce Harper agreed to participate then won in a nail-biter. Had Harper been knocked out in his first turn, the Derby would’ve devolved into a snoozefest occupied by good players yet lesser brands like Max Muncy and Kyle Schwarber.
Following the Derby, Harper, asked what he would say to other stars about the Derby experienced, replied, “If it’s your home crowd, do it,” a selective wisdom now being followed by Judge.
Even if the prize money doesn’t prompt an underpaid player like Judge — who has both bad memories from his previous Derby as well as another revenue stream in endorsements to mitigate the rewards — it could motivate some of his fellow youngsters like, say, the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres, who made the American League All-Star team as a rookie yet expressed public disinterest in the Derby before he so much as received an ask.
“That’ll definitely entice a couple of more guys to definitely participate, that type of prize money, man,” Judge said. “Especially those of us on the league minimum. That would double our salary in one event. That would be pretty cool.”
The previous Derby payouts were $150,000 to the winner, $100,000 to second place, $75,000 for the other participants and $25,000 for the longest home run.
“I think it’s good, because when I was a [younger player], there wasn’t really an opportunity for us,” Stanton said. “They wanted the older guys to go. Now it doesn’t matter who. You can just have a hot first half and they’ll put you in it. So I think the setup is much better now, and this’ll put some more icing on the cake.”
Some pricey icing, for sure. Who besides the trash-talking Gardner wants to take a shot at it? And if the chance to win $1 million doesn’t improve the Derby field, then exactly what will?
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