The Braves are no longer "America's Team"

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jeff Schultz notes
that, with the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies coming to town, the
Braves stand to play in front of hostile crowds at home for some time:

Fortunately, they will be checking tickets and not allegiances this week at Turner Field.

Revenue isn’t the worst fallback. You take what you can get if
you’re the Braves, particularly when three of the visiting teams on a
home stand — the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox – come with overstuffed
caravans and the term “meaningful games” locally appears to have a
decreasing shelf life . . .

. . . The Braves knew the Yankees and Red Sox games would be the
year’s hot tickets. It’s one reason why they initially sold them only
through multi-game packs, also hoping to limit the presence of New York
and Boston fans. But that plan didn’t fill the stadium. Individual game
tickets eventually went on sale three weeks ago.

The expected influx of Yankees and Red Sox is not surprising. It
happens everywhere anymore. It’s one of the consequences of ESPN and
FOX’s efforts to make New York and Boston de facto national teams over
the past decade.

What kills me, though, is that there was a time when the Braves were
the de facto national team. Maybe not quite “America’s Team” as Ted
Turner tried to package them, but certainly a team with a fan base
spread across the country thanks to 144 games on TBS every summer. It’s
one of the reasons I’m a Braves fan. I lived in West Virginia when I
was a teenager, and they were the only game on the dial. I watched
every game, and no matter where the Braves played — Cincinnati, Los
Angeles, Chicago and even New York — there was always a surprisingly
strong Braves’ contingent in the stands.

A couple of years ago, however, Braves’ ownership decided to scrap
that plan. From a broadcast perspective, the Braves are now confined to
the south, and thus the national nature of that fan base is atrophying.
I’m certainly losing track of them to some degree, and I presume others
who used to follow them from afar are as well. I suppose the Braves’
suits could point to how much better the Braves are penetrating their
local market since the broadcasting change, but shouldn’t they have
wrapped up that market before now? How many more Meridian, Mississippi
households can they possibly reach?

Atlanta fans are famously fair-weather, so the low attendance Jeff
Schultz cites in this article is no real surprise given their poor play
of late. One wonders, however, if there would be a greater enthusiasm
for this team if they, like the Yankees and Red Sox, were consistently
reaching a national audience like they used to.

Cubs, Jake Arrieta avoid arbitration at $10.7 million

Jake Arrieta
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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The Associated Press is reporting that the Cubs and starter Jake Arrieta have avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season. That marks the highest salary on a one-year deal for a pitcher with four years of service, the AP notes. Arrieta and the Cubs were set to go before an independent arbitrator but now can simply focus on the season ahead.

Arrieta, 29, is in his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. He had filed for $13 million while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million. The $5.5 million gap was the largest among players who did not come to terms with their respective teams by the January deadline. The $10.7 million salary is $450,000 above the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award for his performance this past season, narrowly edging out Zack Greinke, then with the Dodgers. Arrieta led the majors with 22 wins, four complete games, and three shutouts. With that, he compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 236/48 K/BB ratio across 229 innings.

Once a top prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system, Arrieta struggled in the majors but found immediate success with the Cubs in 2013 after the O’s traded him along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.

Giants sign Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal

Los Angeles Angels third baseman Conor Gillaspie is unable to hold on to the ball after catching a grounder hit by Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
AP Photo/Colin E. Braley
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Per Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Giants have signed infielder Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal. Gillaspie was selected by the Giants in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft, then was traded to the White Sox in February 2013.

Gillaspie, 28, hit a meager .228/.269/.359 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 253 plate appearances between the White Sox and Angels during the 2015 season. Almost all of his playing time has come at third base but he can also play first base if needed.

The Giants, thin on depth, will allow Gillaspie to audition in spring training for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Joe Nathan plans to pitch in 2016

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan throws against the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that free agent reliever Joe Nathan, recovering from Tommy John surgery, plans to pitch in 2016 according to his agent Dave Pepe. According to Pepe, Nathan’s workouts are “going well” and the right-hander is “definitely planning on playing this year.”

Nathan, 41, got the final out on Opening Day (April 6) against the Twins before going on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow, causing him to miss the next 161 games. He will likely be able to contribute out of the bullpen in late May or early June if he has no setbacks. On a minor league deal or incentive-laden major league deal, Nathan could make for a low-risk gamble.

Over a 15-season career that dates back to 1999 (he did not pitch in the majors in 2001 or 2010), Nathan has 377 saves with a 2.89 ERA and a 967/340 K/BB ratio over 917 innings.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.