Payday: Aaron Judge wins it for Yankees on eve of salary showdown

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NEW YORK — Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees have a hearing to determine the three-time All-Star’s salary for the 2022 season.

Whatever gets decided, the verdict has already come down in the Bronx:

Judge is going to be worth every penny.

The steady, 6-foot-7 slugger lined a game-winning single on the eve of his arbitration showdown, capping a four-run ninth inning that included Aaron Hicks‘ tying three-run home r off closer Ryan Pressly in the Yankees’ 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

Batting with two on against Ryne Stanek, Judge smoked a 3-0 splitter into the left-field corner to score Jose Trevino from second base. It was the Yankees’ ninth walk-off win in 70 games this season – their most since 1943 – and one that seemed mighty unlikely when they entered the last inning with only two hits.

“There’s a sign on the way out to the dugout that says, `Do Your Job,”‘ Judge said. “That’s what I tried to do in that situation.”

A job with an unknown salary, for now. The 30-year-old will have an unusual in-season arbitration hearing Friday – rulings are usually made in the offseason but were pushed past opening day this year due to the sport’s labor lockout.

Judge is asking for $21 million. New York has offered $17 million. The three-person panel will be charged with picking one salary or the other – nothing in between.

The hearing comes after the sides failed to reach agreement on a long-term contract prior to Judge’s opening-day deadline this spring, meaning No. 99 could leave the Yankees to chase a free agent deal elsewhere after the season.

Asked about Friday’s meeting, Judge smiled and said only “we’ll talk after.”

“We always hope the best for our guys in arbitration and stuff like that,” Hicks said. “We want him here as a Yankee.”

New York took the opener of a highly anticipated four-game series between the American League’s top two teams, winning for the 19th time in 22 games to improve to 52-18 – the third-best 70-game start in the majors since 1930.

New York also extended its home winning streak to 15 games, the team’s longest since 1961.

The Yankees entered Thursday tied for the major league lead with 20 comeback victories. No. 21 might top them all.

Giancarlo Stanton, who hit a three-run homer in the first inning, led off the ninth with a walk against Pressly, and Gleyber Torres drew another during a plate appearance that included a lengthy delay because Torres had something in his eye.

The switch-hitting Hicks then dug in from the left side and crushed a no-doubter to right field, just the third hit for the Yankees all night and first since Stanton’s homer.

Hicks’ third homer of the season sent the crowd of 44,071 into a frenzy.

“This was a playoff atmosphere right there,” Judge said.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa followed with an infield single but was thrown out trying to steal second – a close call upheld via replay.

Trevino lined a one-out single, prompting manager Dusty Baker to pull Pressly (1-2), a two-time All-Star who entered with a 5.71 ERA in 18 career appearances against the Yankees, including the postseason.

Stanek walked DJ LeMahieu, then fell behind Judge 3-0 as fans serenaded the slugger with “MVP!” chants.

“I knew I was gonna get the job done,” Judge said after his third career walk-off hit and second this season.

“That’s when this game’s at its best right there, moments like that,” he added. “Crowd’s on their feet, game’s on the line. They’re the moments in your backyard you dream about.”

Miguel Castro (4-0) worked a hitless inning for the win.

The Astros’ Alex Bregman and Stanton exchanged three-run homers in the first inning, and Houston’s Yordan Alvarez cracked another three-run drive in the third against Yankees starter Jameson Taillon.

Astros starter Framber Valdez steadied himself after a rocky first inning. Jose Altuve had three hits and right fielder Kyle Tucker robbed a potential homer in the eighth for Houston, but the Astros fell to 43-26 on a rare down night for the majors’ leading bullpen.

“Things started unraveling and we couldn’t put it back,” Baker said.

Valdez struck out seven over six innings, allowing just the three runs on two hits, both in the first inning. He looked primed to go deep in the game until Anthony Rizzo grinded out a 16-pitch walk in the sixth. Valdez was pulled after 101 pitches.

Hector Neris pitched a perfect seventh, and Tucker helped Rafael Montero get through the eighth by leaping at the wall to catch a drive Rizzo thought was a surefire homer.

Taillon allowed a season-high six runs, interrupting a stellar first half after years of being hampered by health woes. Houston had 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings against the right-hander.

Alvarez, who homered twice against the Mets on Wednesday night, smacked a low, 113 mph line drive into Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch in the third. Alvarez’s 22 homers trail only Judge’s 27 for the major league lead.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: SS Jeremy Pena (thumb discomfort) worked out on the field, and Houston planned to evaluate him afterward. … OF Jake Meyers (left shoulder surgery) rejoined the team after completing a minor league rehab assignment but was not activated.

Yankees: Traded RHP David McKay to Tampa Bay for cash, optioned RHP Clarke Schmidt to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and added RHP Albert Abreu to the active roster.

UP NEXT

Astros ace Justin Verlander (8-3, 2.30 ERA) pitches at Yankee Stadium for the first time since Game 5 of the 2019 AL Championship Series, a 4-1 Houston loss. He’s 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 10 career starts at the ballpark. He’ll oppose New York RHP Luis Severino (4-1, 3.27) on Friday night.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.