Dave Stewart’s first move as Diamondbacks GM was the easy one

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When the Diamondbacks brought in Tony La Russa as team president, it was a given that manager Kirk Gibson would be shown the door. The only question was timing. Now that they have a new general manager in Dave Stewart, the timing was right: Gibson was ousted Friday with three games left in the season. Technically, it was Stewart’s initial move as general manager, and practically, it gives him what should be a popular head start with the fanbase, even if the call was made before his arrival.

The real work for Stewart will start in a few weeks. Former GM Kevin Towers left him an absolute mess to work with after selling off several of the team’s best prospects for less talented players who fit his mold of what a team should look like. Making the situation even more difficult is that, by and large, the younger players the Diamondbacks have introduced this year have held their own. That’s a good thing, for sure, but it’makes it a lot more difficult to decide where to upgrade.

Here are the 26-and-under players the Diamondbacks have tried this year:

Didi Gregorius (24): .221/.288/.364. Plus defense at short
Chris Owings (22): .261/.300/.406. Adequate at short, potentially plus at 2B.
Nick Ahmed (24): .200/.235/..277 in 65 AB. Top-notch defensive potential at SS.
Jake Lamb (23): .237/.273/.395 in 114 AB. Solid defense at third.

A.J. Pollock (26): .307/.353/.512. Looks like a keeper in center.
Ender Inciarte (23): .275/.318/.355. One of the league’s best defensive outfielders
David Peralta (26): .286/.319/.447. 111 OPS+. Subpar defense in right.

If you put five or six of those guys alongside Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Montero next year, you’re still probably not going to have a very good lineup. But who are the keepers? Pollock seems like an obvious choice, and Owings has more room to grow. I’m not a big fan of Gregorius or the other two outfielders.

The Diamondbacks also have Aaron Hill under control for two more years and $24 million. Mark Trumbo is due about $6 million in arbitration. Laughably, Cody Ross is due another $9.5 million for next year (including his $1 million buyout for 2016). If the Diamondbacks are willing to give away 2015, they can pay someone to take Hill, probably sell low on Trumbo and continue to play the youngsters. If they’re not, then they’ll need to upgrade at third base and hope that Inciarte or Peralta can excel in right, with Trumbo back in left. Or they could trade Trumbo anyway and sign a free agent outfielder.

In the rotation, the Diamondbacks have Wade Miley, Josh Collmenter, Trevor Cahill, top prospect Archie Bradley, Daniel Hudson and then these guys:

Chase Anderson (26): 4.01 ERA, 105/40 K/BB in 114 IP
Randall Delgado (24): 6.61 ERA in 4 starts, 4.63 ERA, 74/28 K/BB in 58 1/3 IP as reliever
Vidal Nuno (26): 3.76 ERA, 69/20 K/BB in 83 2/3 IP since arriving in Brandon McCarthy deal.
Andrew Chafin (24): 3.86 ERA in three late starts

With Patrick Corbin hoping to return from Tommy John surgery in June and Bronson Arroyo potentially back in July.

The Diamondbacks aren’t at all likely to sign one of the aces available this winter, and it’s worth wondering whether it makes sense to spend big for a third or fourth starter when contending seems like a long shot. If all breaks right, the Diamondbacks could finish next year with a very promising rotation led by Corbin and Bradley, with top prospect Braden Shipley banging down the door and perhaps even Hudson recapturing his former promise. In the meantime, I don’t see how a $10 million-per-year band-aid will do much good.

So, that’s the dilemma Stewart faces. The smart strategy would seem to be to proceed quietly, let the team take its lumps in 2015 in an effort to reemerge as a contender in 2016. But with a new team president, a new GM and a new manager, it’s hard to imagine they won’t try to make some sort of splash, for better or worse.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.