Astros reach deals with McCullers, Díaz; not Correa

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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HOUSTON — The Houston Astros agreed to one-year contracts with right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. and infielder Aledmys Diaz on Friday to avoid salary arbitration, but couldn’t come to terms with star shortstop Carlos Correa.

Houston also finalized a $12.5 million, two-year deal with reliever Pedro Baez that includes a club option and could be worth $19.5 million for three seasons. Last season he was 0-0 with a 3.18 ERA and two saves in 18 appearances for the World Series champion Dodgers.

The Astros and Correa exchanged arbitration figures Friday, with Correa asking for $12.5 million in 2021 and Houston offering $9.75 million. The sides could still strike an agreement until an arbitrator hears the case remotely next month and issues a verdict. The arbitrator will go with one number or the other – no settling in the middle.

The 26-year-old Correa batted .264 with five home runs in 58 games last season, a disappointment he erased with a splendid October. He hit .362 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 13 postseason games, pushing the sub-.500 Astros to Game 7 of the AL Championship Series before they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Correa was set to make $8 million in 2020 but ended up with $2,962,963 in prorated pay during the pandemic-shortened season.

McCullers will make $6.5 million next season after a solid year in 2020 in his return after missing a season following Tommy John surgery. McCullers was 3-3 with a 3.93 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 11 starts last season, earning $1,518,519 prorated from a $4.1 million salary. He’ll be one of the leaders of Houston’s rotation in 2021 with ace Justin Verlander out all year after having Tommy John surgery.

The 30-year-old Diaz will make $3 million next season. He played just 17 games in an injury-plagued 2020 season. He hit .241 with three homers and six RBIs in his second season in Houston and earned $962,963 prorated from a $2.6 million salary.

In seven seasons with the Dodgers, Baez is 21-15 with a 3.03 ERA in 355 appearances. The right-hander has 369 strikeouts in 356 career innings and has limited opponents to a .206 batting average.

He’s been particularly tough on left-handers, holding them to a .181 mark. His best season came in 2019 when he went 7-2 and led the team with 71 appearances and set career bests in wins, opponents’ batting average (.174) and WHIP (0.95).

He gets a $500,000 signing bonus and salaries of $4.5 million this year and $5.5 million in 2022. Houston has a $7.5 million option for 2023 with a $2 million buyout.

Baez’s 2022 salary can escalate by $1 million based on innings this year: $250,000 each for 30, 40, 50 and 60. His option would escalate to $8 million if he has 100 innings in 2021 and 2022 combined.

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

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Cole Burston/Getty Images
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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.