Brad Ausmus

Brad Ausmus did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. He didn’t have to.

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LAKELAND, FLORIDA — Brad Ausmus opened his office to the media at 8:45. It was impeccably neat and organized and during his meeting he spoke accurately and incisively about various medical subjects. Based on the comments of regular Tigers writers, this is juuuuuust a bit different than the Jim Leyland years.

The medical talk came in response to questions about shortstop Jose Iglesias, who will be held out of action for the next week due to a recurrence of some issues with his shin. Ausmus referred to it as a “stress reaction” that, rather than being attributable to some incident on the field, “may be attributable to a genetic issue.” When asked where Iglesias felt pain, Ausmus said he “felt it in his tibia.” When he said “tibia” he gave a shrug and sheepish kind of look as if he had guessed the proper name of the bone, and that caused the assembled reporters to laugh, but you could tell Ausmus knew the right name of the bone. The shrug reminded me of when the smartest guy in the room is trying not to come off as the smartest guy in the room. And Ausmus is very clearly the smartest guy in most rooms he enters.

After the anatomical term came up a reporter jokingly asked Dr. Ausmus if Iglesias’ “superior vena cava” is doing OK.

“Well, I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night  . . .” More laughs. But it seemed to me more of the fine balance a cerebral and athletic-minded person has likely had to manage his whole life. It’s fascinating to see.

The cerebral side came out after some discussion of Bruce Rondon, the Tigers reliever who can throw 100 miles per hour. Ausmus was asked if it’s strange to him that so many pitchers routinely hit the high 90s and even higher on the radar gun these days, and why he thinks that is. If you have that conversation in a bar people will talk about steroids. If you have that conversation with sports fans or even some people in the game, you’ll hear generalizations about kids just being bigger and stronger now. Ausmus, even though he was clearly being asked to offer some pithy generalization about hard-throwers, offered a much longer, thoughtful take.

“The money changed,” Ausmus said. Larger signing bonuses and arbitration awards for hard-throwers with high strikeout totals, even if it doesn’t always translate to great pitching results. The money leads to “greater specialization at younger an younger ages,” with kids focusing on just pitching when they’re younger. And prospects playing in more competitive, sophisticated youth and travel leagues. “And there is just natural evolution at play,” Ausmus added. Noting that baseball is no different than a lot of sports where the records and metrics are better and more impressive now than they used to be.

Ausmus’ manner is free and easy and he’s quick with a joke, but he’s not hilarious the way Jim Leyland often is. And he doesn’t give a flip answer to anything. Even if it seems like he’s talking off the top of his head, you get the impression that he has already considered everything you might ask. Any subject that might come up. It’s an organized brain. It’s evident in his speaking and manner.

It’s even evident by looking at his desk. Every notepad, pen, stapler, and electronic device was neatly and squarely placed on his desk. More neatly than I’ve ever seen on anyone’s desk. It’s like those guys who arrange the place settings with rulers for royal dinners arranged his desk. And you can tell he likes it that way. During his interview, he sat in a side chair and let one of the veteran Tigers reporters sit in his desk chair, partially as a joke, partially out of actual respect. At one point the reporter knocked over his empty McDonald’s coffee cup on Ausmus’ desk calendar. It made no mess, not even a drop, and the reporter quickly picked it up and resumed his question.

Unless, as I was, you were looking right at Ausmus to see his reaction, you may not have noticed that, just for a moment, he dropped his free-and-easy demeanor. That something was interrupted in the intellectual order of his universe for a second. He focused on the cup and the calendar and was briefly concerned that chaos had entered his office. As soon as it was clear that there was no disaster, he snapped back to attention to matters at hand. Control and order had once again been restored.

If you can’t tell, I am fascinated by this guy. There aren’t many beasts like him in managerial ranks. I’m going to be watching him closely.

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.