Houston Astros Photo Day

The Astros cut Jack Cust. This is important. This means something.

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Normally I wouldn’t even write about a bad-defense marginal outfielder being cut in late March, but with Jack Cust — who the Astros just cut — I feel differently.

That’s partially because of the deal he got. Rather than a minor league deal with a spring invite, Cust actually got a one-year deal with an option (it was initially reported as a two-year deal, which caused everyone to freak out). For a guy as ineffective as he had been, and with his negative defensive value, it was odd for an NL team to guarantee him anything, even if was only around $350,000. UPDATE: I was wrong. He wasn’t guaranteed anything. My bad. Still reflecting the confusion about it from the time he signed. The point still stands that it was odd for an NL team to sign him. Anyway:

But the bigger reason I note what is likely the end of the major league road for Mr. Cust is because he represented something more than just what kind of player he is in 2012.  He was … an old flame.

I wrote about this once, many years ago, when he went on a mini-rampage after being called up by the Athletics in 2007.  It was a nice little moment for statheads, because Cust had been something of a poster boy for them/us.

Circa 2001-02, there was no doubt in our minds that he was an All-Star in the making. His triple-A numbers in the Diamondbacks’ systerm were pretty astounding, and he was the epitome of take-and-rake baseball that was then so in vogue.  This was before “Moneyball” was published, mind you, so we all thought we were really onto something new that no one knew anything about. Hipster sabermetrics, if you will.

But then he cratered. He got three whole plate appearances with Arizona. Then he went to Colorado, where folks figured he’d flourish, but he was awful.  In 2003 he got a chance with Baltimore. He had a superficially good season in 2003 — he walked a lot and had power as he always did — but he usually looked awful in a major league uniform, with his vaunted patience at the plate being accompanied by a seeming timidity. A high-profile baserunning mishap that year — Cust fell down twice between third and home in the 12th inning, costing the Orioles the game — sealed his public fate as a one-dimensional DH in a game that would soon change to not favor that dimension as much as it once had. He spent 2004-2006 almost exclusively in the minors, his prospect status transforming into “organizational soldier” mode.

Then 2007 happened. The A’s signed him up and he went crazy, hitting six homers and fourteen RBI in his first seven games. As I wrote at the time, it was like seeing that train wreck of a girl you messed around with a few years ago, only this time she seemed to have it together. Probably still bad news, but man, it was nice to see her. And to see her looking so good.

Cust spent the next few years being Jack Cust. Walking a lot. Mashing a lot. Posting low averages and striking out a lot while providing no defensive value. Even as sabermetrics became more sophisticated, with speed and defense becoming more obviously valuable, there was part of me that felt like Cust was carrying some sort of torch, honoring the Roberto Petagenies, Hee Seop Chois and Erubiel Durazos of the world who didn’t get the shot at redemption Cust got.

It had to end eventually, though. Cust’s power has declined. He can still take a walk, but there usually isn’t any room on a roster for a guy whose only skill is plate patience. Cust is 33 now. He’s not going to suddenly learn how to play left field. He probably has a few triple-A years left in the tank, but it’d be shocking if he showed up on a major league roster again.

But for a stathead of a certain age, Jack Cust’s name will always resonate a little more than your average minor league veteran’s will.  He meant something at one time. Maybe not as much as we thought he did — and maybe in some ways our fixation on him and his ilk kept us from understanding certain things earlier — but we’ll always have feelings for him and will always wish him well.

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.