Yunel Escobar may have 'attitude problems' but he also has a track record of being a very good player

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Yunel Escobar made his big-league debut in 2007. Since then a total of 27 players have accumulated at least 1,000 plate appearances while seeing at least two-thirds of their starts at shortstop. Here’s how he ranks among those 27 shortstops in OPS:

Hanley Ramirez      .935
Troy Tulowitzki     .849
Derek Jeter         .813
Jimmy Rollins       .796
Jose Reyes          .787
YUNEL ESCOBAR       .771
Miguel Tejada       .760
Stephen Drew        .760
Rafael Furcal       .758
J.J. Hardy          .751

Escobar has the sixth-highest OPS among all shortstops during that time, behind only Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Jose Reyes. If you’re curious the man he was traded for, Alex Gonzalez, ranks 14th with a .737 OPS.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not suggesting that trades should be analyzed by OPS (you should read Matthew Pouliot’s in-depth analysis of the deal). However, what I am suggesting is that most of the mainstream analysis of the Escobar-for-Gonzalez swap yesterday didn’t really go beyond “Escobar had a bad first half” and “the Braves were sick of his attitude” while guys like Jon Heyman of SI.com and Buster Olney of ESPN.com deemed it a huge win for Atlanta.
Perhaps that type of shallow analysis shouldn’t be surprising at this point, because it’s prevalence is one of the driving forces behind why blogs and non-mainstream baseball outlets have thrived so much recently. Still, it seems odd that so many people are willing to take Escobar’s “attitude problem” as gospel and focus on three months of poor play while brushing aside the fact that he’s been one of the half-dozen best-hitting shortstops in all of baseball during his four-year career.
He’s also six years younger than Gonzalez, every bit as good defensively, and under team control for three more seasons. I think the Blue Jays did well to get a 27-year-old shortstop with an outstanding glove and track record of good hitting for a 33-year-old shortstop they signed for $3 million this offseason, but I’m open to the notion that the trade makes some sense for the Braves too. However, calling the trade a steal for Atlanta because Escobar rubbed people the wrong way in a career-worst first half ignores the previous three years of his career and 10 years of Gonzalez’s career.

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.