The Braves checked off another box on their to-do list Tuesday when they agreed to terms with veteran reliever Jason Grilli on a two-year, $8 million contract with a third-year option.
The former Pirates closer provides another veteran with a lot of late-innings experience for a bullpen that’s been reshaped in recent weeks. The Braves like the entire package that Grilli brings to the mix.
“We like the makeup, attitude and intangibles as well as adding (another power arm) to an already deep pen,” said Braves president of baseball operations John Hart. “He’s a solid add.”
Grilli, who turned 38 in November, had a 4.00 ERA and 12 saves in 62 appearances with the Pirates and Angels in 2014 while totaling 57 strikeouts and 21 walks in 54 innings.
He pitched better after being traded in late June, though his seasonal statistics were off significantly from previous years with Pittsburgh, which included 33 saves in 2013 and 90 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings in 2012.
Grilli will get $4.25 million in 2015 and $3.5 million in ‘16, with a $3 million option for 2017 that has a $250,000 buyout. The deal won’t be finalized after he completes a physical, likely after baseball’s Christmas break.
Hart and his assistant have stayed busy this offseason and aim to add another starting pitcher and backup catcher before spring training begins two months.
In a two-year span in 2012-2013, Grilli compiled a 2.82 ERA and .210 opponents’ average in 118 appearances, with 164 strikeouts and 35 walks in 108 2/3 innings. He was selected to his first All-Star team in 2013, sixteen years after he was a ballyhooed bonus baby selected by the Giants with the fourth overall pick of the 1997 draft.
Grilli, whose agent is former Braves slugger Gary Sheffield, will give the Braves another eighth-inning option with incumbent David Carpenter and veteran Jim Johnson, a former major league saves leader with Baltimore who signed as a free agent.
The Braves have done plenty to assure they have options for a solid bridge to perennial All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, whom Hart said they have no intention of trading despite the speculation of many outside observers. They also have hard-throwing Michael Kohn, who signed a minor-league deal and will have a good shot at winning a roster spot.
“We’re building around (Kimbrel) in the pen,” Hart said. “We have (setup) options with Carp and two guys in Johnson and Grilli that have many saves, are not afraid of crisis (situations) and still have good stuff. Pen and team leaders who’ll pitch from the sixth inning on. We like our depth.”
Yet another hard thrower, Shae Simmons, impressed as a rookie before a late-season shoulder strain. Simmons should be fully recovered before spring training.
The Braves shipped setup man Jordan Walden to St. Louis as part of the Jason Heyward trade in November. Walden avoided arbitration with the Cardinals by signing a two-year, $6.6 million contract Tuesday.
In 2014, Grilli had as many blown saves (five) in 17 opportunities as he blew in 40 chances over the previous two seasons. He struggled early, spent a month on the disabled list for a strained oblique, and lost his closer job to Mark Melancon.
Grilli’s opponents’ average rose to .252 in 2014 and his WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning pitched) jumped to 1.333, from 1.060 in 2013. He was dealt to the Angels June 27 and pitched a lot better after being traded and getting healthy.
He had a 3.48 ERA and 1.158 WHIP in 40 appearances for the Angels after a 4.87 ERA and 1.623 WHIP in 22 games for the Pirates. Grilli had a 2.12 ERA with 29 strikeouts and seven walks in 29 2/3 innings during his first 34 appearances for the Angels through Sept. 9, before giving up six runs in four innings over his final six outings.
The Braves are the eighth major league team and 13th organization for Grilli, who had an injury-hampered career was first traded by the Giants to the Marlins in a 1999 deal for Livan Hernandez, before Grilli had reached the majors.
He made his big-league debut for Florida with a lone start in 2000, struggled in six games for the Marlins in 2001, then missed two seasons after having Tommy John elbow surgery and setbacks. Grilli moved to the bullpen after spending parts of four underwhelming seasons in the majors as a starter.
His career looked like it might end without much distinction when he missed the 2010 season recovering from major knee surgery after a spring-training injury with the Indians. Grilli fought back and caught on with the Pirates, putting together an impressive half-season in 2011 before producing the best results of his career in 2012-2013 when he was a big part of the Pirates’ resurgence.