In an effort to get center fielder Austin Jackson to steal more bases the Tigers have brought Jeff Cox to spring training as a “baserunning consultant.”
Jim Leyland explained the plan to Tom Gage of the Detroit News:
I’m not being critical, because I don’t mean for it to be critical, but with Jackson, it’s been a confidence factor. What happens in general with players is that guys don’t want to get thrown out. They don’t want that embarrassment. …
But there are times you want to take that gamble, which means he should have a better feel for it. … I would [like Jackson to steal more bases]. That’s basically what we are saying. The better way to put it is that I would like him to steal more important bases. I’ve always said that to steal a base when everybody knows you’re going to try, that’s when you are a base stealer.
It’s not quite “Best Shape of His Life” territory as far as spring training cliches go, but wanting a speedy player to steal more bases is a very common plan for teams in February and March every year. Sometimes it happens, more often it doesn’t, and then everyone forgets about the whole thing by the time spring training rolls around the next year.
As for Jackson, he’s never really been an effective basestealer. Through three seasons in the majors he’s stolen 20 bases per 150 games while being successful just 75 percent of the time. Last year that included going 12-for-21, which is terrible. In the minors Jackson had a much better success rate, but hardly piled up big steal totals with 25 in 135 games at Triple-A and 19 in 131 games at Double-A.
Stealing more bases at a better rate would be nice for Jackson, but the much more important issue will be whether or not he can maintain last season’s .377 on-base percentage after getting on base at a .331 clip in his first two seasons.
After trading Ender Inciarte to the Braves as part of the Shelby Miller deal, Yasmany Tomas will go into 2016 as a regular in the Diamondbacks’ lineup. Signed to a six-year, $68.5 million contract in December of 2014, Tomas batted .273 with nine home runs and a .707 OPS over 426 plate appearances during his first season in the majors last year while struggling defensively between third base and right field. Third base is out as a possibility at this point, but the Diamondbacks are mulling over another defensive change for him.
According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said Friday that the club has discussed moving Tomas to left field and David Peralta to right.
“We’re definitely talking about it,” Hale said. “(Outfield coach) Dave McKay and I, (General Manager Dave Stewart) and (Chief Baseball Officer) Tony (La Russa), we think it might be best to switch them around.”
When the third base experiment flopped, the Diamondbacks put Tomas in right because they felt he would be the most comfortable there. The metrics weren’t kind to him. He’ll now have a full spring training to work on things if the club decides to make a change. Peralta isn’t the defender that Inciarte was, but he’s better than Tomas, so it’s understandable why the Diamondbacks would change their alignment.
Tomas is likely to be a liability no matter where he plays, but the Diamondbacks won’t mind as much if his bat begins to meet expectations. For a team with designs on the postseason, he’s a big key for this lineup.
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.
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.
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.