Royals agree with All-Star Whit Merrifield on restructured deal

Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All-Star outfielder Whit Merrifield and the Kansas City Royals agreed to a restructured contract in which the club exercised its option for next season and the two sides added a mutual option for 2024.

Merrifield, who made his second All-Star team last season, will earn $7 million this season and $2.75 million in 2023, a figure that would escalate by $4 million if he spends 109 days or fewer on the injured list this season. The mutual option is for $18 million with a $500,000 buyout.

The 33-year-old Merrifield hit .277 with an American League-leading 40 stolen bases and 42 doubles last season, becoming the first player since Charlie Gehringer in 1929 to lead the AL in both categories. Merrifield also had 40-plus doubles and 40-plus steals in 2018, making him one of seven players in big league history with at least two such seasons.

Merrifield’s value to the Royals is more than just his bat and baserunning ability. One of baseball’s most versatile players, Merrifield is also capable of playing first base, second base and third base along with all three outfield positions.

The growth of second baseman Nicky Lopez last season, and the arrival of top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. at third base this season, means Merrifield will play mostly in the outfield again. That is where he’ll start Thursday’s opener against Cleveland, extending his club record – and the longest active streak in the majors – to 470 consecutive games played.

Yankees star Judge hits 62nd homer to break Maris’ AL record

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers - Game Two
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ARLINGTON, Texas – Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the season Tuesday night, breaking Roger Maris’ American League record and setting what some fans consider baseball’s “clean” standard.

The 30-year-old Yankees slugger drove a 1-1 slider from Texas right-hander Jesus Tinoco into the first couple of rows of seats in left field when leading off the second game of New York’s day-night doubleheader.

Maris’ 61 for the Yankees in 1961 had been exceeded six times previously, but all were tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year. Barry Bonds hit an MLB-record 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001, and the Chicago Cubs’ 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 as holder of the legitimate record.

A Ruthian figure with a smile as outsized as his body, the 6-foot-7 Judge has rocked the major leagues with a series of deep drives that hearken to the sepia tone movie reels of his legendary pinstriped predecessors.

“He should be revered for being the actual single-season home run champ,” Roger Maris Jr. said Wednesday night after his father’s mark was matched by Judge. “I think baseball needs to look at the records and I think baseball should do something.”

Judge had homered only once in the past 13 games, and that was when he hit No. 61 last Wednesday in Toronto. The doubleheader nightcap in Texas was his 55th game in row played since Aug. 5.

After a single in five at-bats in the first game Tuesday, Judge was 3 for 17 with five walks and a hit by pitch since moving past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league record for 34 years. Maris hit his 61st off Boston’s Tracy Stallard at old Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, 1961.

Judge has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He leads the AL with 131 RBIs and began the day trailing Minnesota’s Luis Arraez, who was hitting .315.

The home run in his first at-bat put him back to .311, where he had started the day before dropping a point in the opener.

Judge’s accomplishment will cause endless debate.

“To me, the holder of the record for home runs in a season is Roger Maris,” author George Will said earlier this month. “There’s no hint of suspicion that we’re seeing better baseball than better chemistry in the case of Judge. He’s clean. He’s not doing something that forces other players to jeopardize their health.”