It’s a fact — confirmed by multiple writers whose nearly sole vocation in this life is to report on such matters — it’s a fact that right-handed reliever Jason Grilli has signed a two-year, $8 million with the Atlanta Braves, with a club option of a third year.
Per the terms of the agreement, one assumes, Grilli will report to the Braves’ facility in central Florida for spring training, where he’ll prepare himself to set up closer Craig Kimbrel. At the beginning of April, he’ll travel with the club to their season opener in Miami against the Marlins, then to Atlanta for a series against the Mets, and continue in this fashion for some time.
“For some time,” I say, but probably a time less than two years — and probably a lot more like three months. For, while any number of outcomes are possible regarding the Braves, the most likely one for 2015 is that they’ll win games at a lower rate than almost every other club in the majors. By way of illustration, consider the table below, which features the bottom-five clubs per this site’s projected 2015 standings.
Atlanta still has some talent, surely. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, and Craig Kimbrel all profile to produce All Star-type seasons at their respective positions. Still, the departures of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, in conjunction with injuries which have sabotaged their starting rotation, have created an obstacle which, if not technically insurmountable, at least poses a significant challenge to their success in the near future.
And because of this, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which contending teams are inquiring about Jason Grilli in July — and in which Atlanta is listening to such inquiries intently. Dave Cameron considered a similar hypothetical scenario while examining the Astros’ possible motivations for signing reliever Luke Gregerson. The Astros, like the Braves, are something less than an obvious contender for 2015. Gregerson, as a reliever, is unlikely to add much in the way of wins. Yet, the Astros voluntarily agreed to a three-year commitment. Why would they do that?
The big question hanging over this move, and the pursuits of Miller and Robertson, is why the Astros are spending money to sign free agent relievers. Expensive bullpen arms have historically proven to provide the lowest return on investment in baseball, and the Astros are not in a position to sacrifice significant future value for a modest short-term boost. Why would a team that has been so set on building for the future suddenly shift gears and sign an aging reliever who probably won’t still be an effective arm by the time the Astros are ready to contend?
Well, I’m just speculating here, but perhaps the Astros signed Gregerson with the clear intention of trading him this summer for something that could be a part of their future. As we see every July, the markup on useful bullpen arms is ridiculously high in-season, and with so many teams currently in go-for-it mode, the Astros are positioned to be one of the few teams able to take advantage of what should be a very strong seller’s market.
If Cameron is speculating, then clearly I, a person who’s less qualified to comment on such matters, am speculating even harder. What it appears has happened, though, is that the Braves have in effect signed Grilli to two contracts: a three-month, $2.125 million deal between themselves and Grilli and then a second 1.5-year, $5.875 million (and a club option) with whichever club is willing to offer the best package at the trade deadline. The former contract is amenable to the Braves’ current situation, insofar as it gives them a reasonably priced and competent reliever for the first half of the year. The latter appeals to any club potentially acquiring Grilli, insofar as their commitment won’t be particularly large — and whatever costs Grilli presents will be outweighed by the revenue produced by a postseason appearance.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.