Mets avoid arb with 8 players, including Lindor, Conforto

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

NEW YORK — The New York Mets agreed to one-year contracts with eight players Friday to avoid salary arbitration, including shortstop Francisco Lindor, outfielder Michael Conforto and first baseman-outfielder Dominic Smith.

Lindor will earn $22.3 million and Conforto gets $12.25 million in their final years before potentially becoming free agents. Smith agreed to a $2.55 million deal in his first year eligible for arbitration.

Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo ($4.7 million) and right-handers Edwin Diaz ($7 million), Seth Lugo ($2,925,00), Miguel Castro ($1,687,500) and Robert Gsellman ($1.3 million) also agreed to one-year deals.

Lindor’s is the fourth-biggest one-year contract for an arbitration-eligible player, trailing Mookie Betts ($27 million with Boston last year), Nolan Arenado ($26 million with Colorado in 2019) and Josh Donaldson ($23 million with Toronto in 2018).

New York had nine players eligible for arbitration – tied with Pittsburgh for the most among major league teams. The only one who did not reach an agreement by Friday’s deadline to exchange proposed salaries was third baseman-outfielder J.D. Davis.

Eligible for arbitration for the first time, Davis asked for $2,475,000 and the Mets offered him $2.1 million. The sides could still reach an agreement until a three-arbitrator panel hears the case online next month and rules. The panel would pick one number or the other – no settling in the middle.

After a 2019 breakout at the plate, Davis hit .247 with six homers, 19 RBIs and a .761 OPS in 56 games last season. He began the year in left field, then moved to a more comfortable spot at third base – though defense is not his calling card. Barring another significant addition to the infield, the hot corner is where he figures to fit for the Mets again this year.

Davis, who turns 28 in April, earned $219,431 in prorated pay last year from his $592,463 salary.

Lindor was acquired from Cleveland last week along with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco in a blockbuster trade that excited Mets fans. New York parted with young infielders Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario plus two minor leaguers in a deal that signaled the club is serious about paying for star players and contending immediately under new owner Steve Cohen.

The next step will be trying to keep Lindor beyond this year. The four-time All-Star shortstop said he’s not opposed to signing a long-term contract with the Mets. He said he wouldn’t want to negotiate after starting spring training, though.

Lindor, 27, had a down year at the plate during the pandemic-shortened season. He batted .258 with eight homers, 27 RBIs and a .750 OPS while starting all 60 games and earning just more than $6.48 million prorated from his $17.5 million salary.

Conforto, who turns 28 in March, has become a steady and productive staple in the middle of New York’s dangerous lineup. He batted a career-best .322 in 54 games last season with nine homers, 31 RBIs and a .927 OPS. The slugging right fielder also scored 40 runs, played solid defense and was selected second team All-MLB. He made $2,962,963 prorated from an $8 million salary.

Conforto was drafted 10th overall by the Mets in 2014 out of Oregon State and helped them reach the World Series as a rookie the following season. The 2017 All-Star can become a free agent after the upcoming season and is represented by Scott Boras. With Cohen in place, the Mets have said they’re interested in talking to Conforto about a long-term contract – and he sounded open to the idea. But this late in the game, reaching an agreement before he hits the open market could prove challenging.

The 25-year-old Smith enjoyed a huge breakout during the pandemic-shortened season, forcing his way into the everyday lineup and hitting .316 with 10 home runs, 21 doubles, 42 RBIs and a .993 OPS in 50 games. He earned $214,380 prorated from his $578,826 salary.

Smith’s natural position is first base, creating a bit of a potential logjam with Mets slugger Pete Alonso. If the National League adopts the designated hitter again, problem solved. If not, Smith could see plenty of playing time in left field, where his shortcomings and inexperience are evident. Even team president Sandy Alderson acknowledged that wouldn’t be ideal.

Nimmo batted .280 with a .404 on-base percentage and .888 OPS in 55 games last season. He had eight home runs and 18 RBIs. He has a sharp eye at the plate, often hitting in the leadoff spot, and is pegged as New York’s regular center fielder unless the team acquires a new one and shifts Nimmo to left.

The hustling and smiling Nimmo, who turns 28 in March, made $805,556 in prorated pay last year from a $2,175,000 salary.

The hard-throwing Diaz was so awful in 2019 during his first season with the Mets that he lost his job as closer and got booed repeatedly at Citi Field. He got off to a rough start again last year but rediscovered the nasty fastball-slider combination that helped him lead the majors with 57 saves as a 2018 All-Star for Seattle.

The right-hander finished 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA and six saves in 26 appearances. He struck out a whopping 50 batters against 14 walks in 25 2/3 innings, reclaiming his ninth-inning role. Perhaps most important, he gave up only two home runs after serving up 15 in 58 innings the year before.

Diaz, who turns 27 in March, made $1,888,889 in prorated pay last season from his $5.1 million salary.

Lugo wound up back in an injury-depleted rotation last season because the Mets needed help there. The versatile right-hander prefers to start but has been more effective as a reliever the last few years. He went 3-4 with a 5.15 ERA and three saves in 16 games, including seven starts.

The 31-year-old Lugo, a 34th-round draft pick out of Centenary College in Louisiana, earned a prorated $740,741 from his $2 million salary last season. Until the Mets finish assembling their pitching staff, it’s uncertain whether Lugo will be in the bullpen or rotation to begin the season.

Castro was acquired from Baltimore in a trade on Aug. 31 last year and went 1-2 with a 4.00 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the Mets. He was 2-2 with a 4.01 ERA and one save in 26 outings overall, striking out 38 with 13 walks in 24 2/3 innings.

The 26-year-old right-hander, with a live arm at 6-foot-7 but shaky control, projects as part of New York’s middle relief and setup corps this season. He is 8-18 with a 4.29 ERA and seven saves in six major league seasons and earned $388,889 in prorated pay from a $1.05 million salary last year.

Last year was a wreck for Gsellman, sidelined by a triceps injury and then a broken rib. The 27-year-old right-hander had a 9.64 ERA in just 14 innings, making four starts and two relief appearances.

Gsellman earned $453,704 prorated from his $1,225,000 salary.

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

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
3 Comments

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.