After the New York Yankees acquired Juan Soto in a blockbuster offseason trade, it might seem like the only thing that can keep their batting order from being the best in baseball would be a resurgence of the injuries that derailed their 2023 campaign.

GettyNew York Yankees manager Aaron Boone will have to watch franchise star Aaron Judge closely this season as he looks to avoid injury.

Reflecting on a defensive change for $360 million franchise star Aaron Judge, that possibility was at the forefront for MLB columnist Bob Klapsich of the Newark Star Ledger.

“If we’re talking about injuries, I don’t think we can overstate the risk of having Judge in center field this year,” Klapsich wrote. “I actually think it’s a crazy idea… But Judge in center, as Bernie Williams told me early in the spring, is an injury list waiting to happen.”

Aaron Judge Has Been Shifted to Center Field to Accommodate New York Yankees Additions

In his eight-season career, Judge has started 616 games in right field, 128 games at designated hitter and 120 games in center field. But with the addition of Soto and Alex Verdugo this offseason, Judge is now projected to spend most of his defensive time as the everyday center fielder, which is seen as a much more physically-demanding position.

“I know the options are limited at that position because you’d have to put Soto in right and Verdugo has to be in left,” Klapsich added. “There are just too many physical demands on a center fielder who’s played most of his career in right and has often been injured… And even if he’s not injured, the daily grind could become a factor over the summer months. Center field is a huge, huge question mark.”

The Yankees Will Need a Healthy Aaron Judge to Make a Deep Postseason Run

The Yankees will need Judge at the height of their powers if they are going to make a World Series run in 2024. In a historic 2022 season, the slugger led MLB in home runs, RBI, walks, OBP, SLG and OPS en route to an MVP Award and the all-time American League home run record. Yankees manager Aaron Boone has pointed out that he played 78 games at center field that season and maintained his health.

But 2023 was a different story. Judge was still stellar when he played, but he dealt with two significant injuries that limited him to just 367 at bats. Judge put fears about an abdominal injury to rest this preseason as he returned to Spring Training to swat a double in his first at bat after 10 days of rest. He has emphasized that he’s “feeling good” entering Opening Day.

But his Yankees teammates haven’t been as fortunate. Franchise ace Gerrit Cole is currently rehabbing an elbow injury, projected leadoff hitter DJ LeMahieu is starting the season on the injured list and first baseman Anthony Rizzo felt some minor discomfort in Spring Training, among other ailments on the roster.

Still, with a healthy Judge and Soto batting back-to-back, the Yankees might be able to power their way through any adversity they face in 2024. The extent to which Judge is asked to prowl center field could become a focus as the team counts on his bat to be as good or even better than ever.

“Judge is 32, which is a lot different than being in your 20s,” Klapsich pointed out. “That’s why the Yankees need to manage his playing time carefully. Otherwise, we’re looking at the possibility of a breakdown by late summer.”