Really, all they need from the 39-year-old right-hander, expected to arrive Wednesday, is that he deliver some professional innings in low- and medium-leverage situations, attack hitters and throw strikes on a consistent basis – basically make the opposition earn what it gets.
If Grilli gives them more than that and helps support Joe Biagini and Gavin Floyd in bridging the gap to Osuna, great. But his numbers thus far aside – make your own his 5.29 ERA fits right in jokes – he should be able to give the Blue Jays at least a bit more depth in the ‘pen.
“There’s a lot we like about Jason and how he complements this team,” general manager Ross Atkins said Tuesday night. “The first thing that comes to mind is experience, he’s been on winning teams, very high-leverage situations and gets ton of swing and miss, has gotten a ton of swing and miss over his career. Those are good attributes for someone to be in the bullpen, we’ll see how it pans out here.”
If it doesn’t pan out, well, no biggie, since the Atlanta Braves are paying down the remainder of his $3.5-million salary this season, covering $2.175 million of the $2,371,585 he’s still owed according to The Associated Press, making this close to a free look in exchange for Canadian minor-league righty Sean Ratcliffe.
The Blue Jays are also responsible for Grilli’s incentives for games finished and appearances, should he achieve them, and the $250,000 buyout on his $3 million club option for 2017. This is bottom-feeding in the absence of better options with the trade market on hold as the draft looms.
“We need to stay flexible and make sure that we can continue to add to this team,” Atkins said of the financial component.
So really, there’s nothing to lose here, especially if Grilli’s 12.2 strikeouts per nine rate holds in the AL East, and adds needed whiff to the Blue Jays bullpen. He should help contain right-handed batters, too, having limiting them to a .604 OPS, although the 1.057 OPS lefties have hit him at means he’ll need to be used cautiously.
“Swing and miss is definitely going to be valuable but one of the things we’ve really been lacking is experience,” said Atkins. “That component with his ability to miss bats is attractive.”
Grilli, whom the Blue Jays pursued in free agency before the 2013 season when he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, posted a 2.94 ERA with 24 saves in 36 games for the Braves last year before rupturing his left Achilles tendon as he ran off the mound to first base to cover the bag.
In nine April games this year he posted a 6.75 ERA and is down to 4.00 in 12 May outings, not allowing a run in five straight appearances.
“He could have potentially come back too quick and that was on his own doing – he’s really committed to being part of a major-league baseball team,” said Atkins. “That could have contributed to a slower start, he’s been pitching a lot better over the past few outings. A lot of the things we looked at indicated that he could be a very helpful piece to our bullpen.”
As for Grilli’s exact fit in the puzzle, Atkins said: “We’ll see. It’s really going to depend on how he’s throwing the ball.”
The perfect type of spot for him would have been the ninth inning in Monday’s 4-2 win against the New York Yankees, when Osuna, Biagini and Floyd were all unavailable due to their heavy recent workload. In their absence, the Blue Jays handed a 4-0 lead to Aaron Loup, who surrendered a two-run homer to Brian McCann before Drew Storen was called upon for the final two outs.
And while Grilli doesn’t resolve the overarching issues facing the bullpen – the Blue Jays need Storen and the injured Brett Cecil to get right and dominate close and late spots the way they have in the past – he’s another piece, and perhaps a better one than what’s currently in place.
“He’s been someone that we’ve liked for a while, a Cleveland Indian for a short stint in 2010 before he injured his knee, he’s someone who is well known in the industry and before I was here he was even mentioned in trade talks here last year,” said Atkins. “This off-season his name came up and it got to a point where the acquisition price was right.”