Cubs’ Hoyer to discuss futures with Bryant, Baez, Rizzo

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CHICAGO — Jed Hoyer plans to chat with Kris Bryant about his future during spring training. Also on deck for the top baseball executive for the Chicago Cubs: similar discussions with Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo.

All three sluggers have contracts set to expire after this season, when they can become free agents. How much longer they remain in Chicago are big questions as the Cubs open spring training on Wednesday in Arizona.

“I’d love to have that continuity with these guys going forward,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “Financially, it’s impossible for any team to be able to continue with that group.”

Chicago’s luxury tax payroll would have been $216 million last year had the full season been played, well above the tax threshold for the second straight year.

Bryant, Baez and Rizzo helped Chicago win the World Series in 2016, stopping a championship drought dating to 1908. The Cubs finished first in the NL Central last season and made the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. But they managed just one run over two games in a wild-card sweep by Miami.

Chicago hasn’t advanced in the postseason since reaching the NL Championship Series in 2017. A makeover is under way. And it’s not clear how much longer three of its biggest stars will remain with the team.

Bryant’s name, in particular, has come up in trade rumors. Hoyer said the Cubs have not engaged in talks with other clubs of late.

“We were involved in a lot of rumors this year,” Hoyer said. “Some were just completely inaccurate. And then I would say some were just sort of exaggerated – the seriousness of those discussions.”

But he also acknowledged more changes are coming, that the odds of retaining Bryant, Rizzo and Baez are slim. Bryant has a $19.5 million salary, Rizzo $16.5 million and Baez $11.65 million.

“We’ve said all along, very clearly, we’d like to keep some of these players,” Hoyer said. “That would be great. But it’s unrealistic to keep all of the players that were a significant part of 2016. That’s just a reality.”

Chicago made some major moves in the offseason.

Theo Epstein stepped down, and Hoyer was promoted to president of baseball operations.

The Cubs traded ace Yu Darvish along with $3 million to San Diego, saving $56 million from 2021-23, and said goodbye to Jon Lester, who signed a $5 million, one-year deal with Washington in free agency. They declined to offer a contract to slugger Kyle Schwarber, who signed a $10 million deal with the Nationals, and gave Joc Pederson a $7 million agreement to replace him.

The Cubs are reuniting with one familiar face after Jake Arrieta agreed last week to a $6 million deal that is pending a physical. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner would essentially take Lester’s spot after Hoyer was given some added financial flexibility in recent weeks.

“It was really more of a timing issue than anything,” Hoyer said. “Jon Lester’s been sort of a constant in my career. I love having him. He’s an A-plus teammate and obviously an A-plus competitor.”

Hoyer indicated the Cubs were close to adding a reliever, saying they “probably” will announce a deal soon. He also said Rowan Wick will be slowed at the start of camp because of a muscle injury in the ribs area, and Kyle Ryan will be delayed because of COVID-19 protocols.

When it comes to the closer, the Cubs appear to be set. That job belongs to Craig Kimbrel for now.

Manager David Ross said he expects him to start the season in his familiar role after pitching better down the stretch last year. The seven-time All-Star struggled early in 2020 and lost his job. But in eight appearances in September, Kimbrel did not allow a run and struck out 13 without a walk in 7 1/3 innings. Jeremy Jeffress, who had a 1.54 ERA and eight saves in 10 chances, is a free agent.

“He went through a little bit of bumps,” Ross said. “He worked his way back into being himself. Talking to him, he feels great this offseason. The work, the videos he’s sent in, he looks really polished already. … As long as Craig is who we know he can be, he’s gonna be our closer.”

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.