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Hanley Ramirez has ‘hunger of a rookie?’ It’s about time

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Look out world, Hanley Ramirez is ready to play hard this season.

No more fooling around for this kid. No more treating ground balls with that special Roger Dorn flair. No more strutting around like he taught Abner Doubleday the nuances of the game. No more spotting the pitcher a pitch or two in each at-bat.

Ramirez, the star shortstop of the Florida Marlins, is ready to rebound from a sub-par 2010 season in which his average dropped 42 points, his RBIs plummeted from 106 to 76 and his defense regressed from casual to careless.

With spring training only two weeks away, the enigmatic star is ready to return to the form of 2009 that nearly netted him the NL MVP award. He says he “has the hunger of a rookie,” and started his offseason workouts a month early, according to a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

“Everyone will be very surprised with the new Hanley and his whole makeup,” manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He is very motivated. He was very disappointed in his season. He knows the whole offense revolves around him.”

Good for him. It’s heartwarming to see a three-time All-Star who is about to make $11 million decide that unlike last year, this time he really means business. These sorts of stories always make me wonder why he wasn’t motivated before? Perhaps it’s a matter of being too good too soon, and you just assume you’re going to hit .340 and drive in 100 every year. It just comes that easily. Or maybe it’s a matter of looking at the prospect of making $57 million over the next four seasons and feeling pretty happy with yourself.

Either way, Marlins fans are going to be facing years of frustration if their best player has to remember to be motivated every of couple of seasons. Ramirez is obviously a great talent, and even a down season like 2010 translated into an OPS+ of 124. But he’ll have to realize at some point that you can’t get by on talent alone. Otherwise you end up like Shawn Kemp, and nobody wants to see that.

Jackson reports that last year, opposing pitchers figured out that a steady diet of sinking pitches down-and-in would hold Ramirez in check, and the Marlins star never adjusted. And then there is the issue of his attitude, which some teammates perceive – according to Jackson – as moody.

Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson put it this way late last season: “When he’s struggling, he’s humbled and more approachable and communicative and you see a different makeup. When he’s on a hot streak, you see a lot of swagger. Some players don’t like that and call it selfishness or ‘hot dog.’ … You have to always show interest in teammates when they are struggling.”

There’s nothing wrong with a little humility. And knowing what a joy it is to watch Ramirez at his best, one can only hope that his new-found motivation has a lasting impact.

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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.