La Russa closeup

Tony La Russa to the union: Leave Albert Pujols alone!

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He didn’t quite put it that way, but that was the gist.  Here’s La Russa lamenting what he believes to be the union strong-arming Albert Pujols into trying to get as much money as possible:

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he believes the Major League Baseball Players Association is attempting to “beat up” Albert Pujols and his agent in an attempt to get Pujols to sign a record-setting contract. And that, La Russa said emphatically, “is bull—-. That’s not the way it should be” …

… La Russa said he had no specific evidence that Pujols was being pressured by the players union. But he said his many years in the game have made that “a guaranteed assumption. It’s gone on since I started managing. And I don’t think they’d deny it.”

He goes on to say how bad it is that players look to get the highest salary they can get and how there are more important considerations than that. “I’ve had a number of players over the years who took the [most] money,” La Russa said, “and they’ve regretted it later.”

We’ve heard this stuff before, but not quite as starkly as La Russa puts it.  For what it’s worth, I think that, contrary to the way La Russa says it, the union would deny that they put pressure on Pujols. At least not any undue pressure.  They have no actual leverage over him.  What, exactly, can they do to Pujols other than to encourage him to think about the fact that his deal will, by necessity, help set the market for others?

Which, by the way, is the truth, and it’s something every union member knows when they join a union.  Indeed, once the basics of safe working conditions and workers’ dignity are squared away, the “rising tide lifts all boats” dynamic is at the very essence and purpose of organized labor.  Management hates it, of course, and of course, La Russa is management.  But if management still got what it wanted all the time the reserve clause would still be in existence and ballplayers who drive a multi-billion industry would be making six figures.

To the extent there is pressure — and I don’t doubt that Pujols feels it — it’s not coming from union lackeys filling his voice mail with threats or whatever it is La Russa  is trying to inspire in listeners’ minds (and La Russa never says anything that isn’t calculated).  It’s the passive sort of pressure that comes from the realization of one’s position.  He knows that his contract means more to other players than, say, Curtis Granderson’s does.  He knows everyone is watching.  Because it is going to necessarily be a huge and complicated deal, I’m sure there has already been some interaction with the union about it.

But would La Russa honestly have us believe that this man and his minions are putting the screws to Albert Pujols?  That poor, timid little Pujols is adrift is being “beat up” by a quirky lawyer named “Weiner”?  La Russa complicates everything, but in this case he’s turning what is a complicated situation into something that is black and white and he’s putting the black hat on the union.

It’s applesauce, I tells ya.

UPDATE:  Jeff Passan of Yahoo! just talked to union head Mike Weiner. His comment: “We have had no conversations with Albert or Dan Lozano.”

But … but … Tony La Russa has a “guaranteed assumption!”  Are you saying that La Russa is wrong?!  That can’t be!

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.