New Atlanta Braves president John Hart has already put his stamp on the team by trading away offensive centerpieces Jason Heyward and Justin Upton for a collection of prospects and viable young starter in Shelby Miller. He’s also added a pair of free agent bats in Nick Markakis and Alberto Callapso to help offset the lost production. Now the time has come to address an already impressive bullpen.
According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Braves have reached an agreement veteran reliever Jason Grilli on a two-year deal that includes a third-year team option. David O’Brien of the Atlanta-Journal Constitution has confirmed those details, but the financials are not yet available.
Grilli, 38, was an All-Star closer in 2013, but is coming off an uneven 2014 season. Grilli resumed his role as Pittsburgh Pirates closer to begin the season, but accumulated three blown saves in the first three weeks before hitting the disabled list with a straining left oblique. He wasn’t much better after his return, running his ERA up to 4.87 with four home runs allowed in 22 appearances for Pittsburgh.
On June 20, Grilli was officially removed from the closer’s role. On June 27, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for their struggling former closer, Ernesto Frieri. Grilli ended up turning things around in Los Angeles enough to settle into a setup role ahead of new closer Huston Street. In 40 Angels appearances, he posted a 3.48 ERA with no home runs allowed.
With Craig Kimbrel firmly established as one of the game’s most dominant closers, a setup role is what will await Grilli in Atlanta. He’ll join returning relievers David Carpenter, Luis Avilan and left-hander James Russell and essentially replace Jordan Walden, who was moved to St. Louis in the Heyward trade. Hart also added former Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s closer Jim Johnson to the mix on a one-year deal. Collectively, the group should give manager Fredi Gonzalez plenty of options in the late innings, though Johnson will have to earn his role after a brutal 2014 campaign.
The Grilli signing immediately had some fans concerned that Hart was stacking options in order to eventually trade Kimbrel. O’Brien quickly squashed those concerns on Twitter.
As Hart has stated, he’s retooling, not rebuilding. Trading Kimbrel would obviously change that, so he’s not likely to go anywhere this winter. Hart is simply looking to add depth, with the understanding that predicting reliever production is as difficult these days as predicting an NFL game. The more options you have with experience and past success, the better chance you’ll find enough guys to field a good bullpen.
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