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NEW YORK (AP) — Nestor Cortes envisions Aaron Judge in an elevated role with the New York Yankees next season: Derek Jeter’s successor as captain.

“If he’s back here next year, he’s our captain. He’s the next captain,” Cortes said Saturday before Game 3 of the AL Championship Series. “We follow everything he does. He leads by example. He’s not really a guy that comes out and screams at anybody. But if he has to, that’s his job. I think he’s earned that right to keep us in check.”

Judge set an American League record with 62 homers this season, tied for the major league lead with 131 RBIs and was second in the AL in hitting at .311. The 30-year-old outfielder is eligible for free agency after earning $19 million this year. In the hours before opening day, he turned down a deal that would have paid $213.5 million from 2023-29 and said then “I want to be a Yankee for life.”

All teams are eligible to negotiate with Judge starting on the sixth day after the World Series, and Y ankees general manager Brian Cashman realizes the price has gone up.

Cortes said there was no need to tell Judge he deserves to be captain.

“I’m sure he knows it already,” the pitcher said. “He’s just the guy for it. I feel like we follow his steps every time. Like I’ve said before, he’s the last one to leave from the clubhouse on the road, and we don’t leave until he leaves. We just follow his act. We follow everything he does. I think he’s a perfect example for the game of baseball, for the kids that are coming up and learning from the game. Sometimes I ask myself, how does he have so much time to stop for interviews and signatures? But he finds a way.”

New York has had six captains in the Steinbrenner family era: Thurman Munson (1976-79), Graig Nettles (1982-84), Willie Randolph (1986-88), Ron Guidry (1986-89), Don Mattingly (1991-95) and Jeter (2003-14).

Earlier captains included Clark Griffith (1903-05), Kid Elberfeld (1906-08), Willie Keeler (1909), Hal Chase (1910-11), Frank Chance (1913 to midseason), Rollie Zelder (1913 midseason until end), Roger Peckinpaugh (1914-21), Babe Ruth (1922) and Lou Gehrig (1935-39).

Cortes beat Cleveland on short rest Tuesday in the decisive Game 5 of the Division Series. The 27-year-old left-hander is scheduled to start Game 4 of the LCS against Houston on Sunday night.

Cortes was a first-time All-Star this season and went 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA in 28 starts, quite the turnaround for a pitcher designated for assignment by the Yankees in November 2019 and allowed to become a free agent by Seattle a year later when the Mariners assigned him outright to the minors.

“Last year I used to take the subway. Nobody really recognized me because of the mask,” he said, referring to the pandemic requirement. “This year, maybe like three or four starts into the season, I remember going shopping one day and getting stopped a few times to take pictures — just greeting me. So that felt kind of cool. Now it’s just, everywhere I go I have a little hoodie on and stuff.”

He laughed.

“It’s great to be recognized,” he said. “Obviously when you’re doing good it’s even better because you know people like you. But, hopefully, I’m still loved from here on out.”


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