The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded reliever Jason Grilli to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for reliever Ernesto Frieri.
Frieri is a a 28-year-old righty that has struggled in the closer role this year, something he has in common with Grilli. Both have pitched well in the recent past in that role, so they might be able to return to their success in a different uniform.
Frieri has a 6.39 ERA this season in 34 appearances, with 11 saves and a 1.36 WHIP. In 31 innings, he has 38 strikeouts. He had 60 saves total between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Frieri got off to a slow start this year and has recently pitched poorly, but he had a nice stretch from late-April until the first week of June when he was pitching well. He also has two more seasons of control after this year, unlike Grilli, who will become a free agent at the end of the season.
Grilli was recently moved out of the closer role. He has blown four saves in 15 opportunities this year. He also missed a month of this season with a strained oblique injury. Grilli has a 4.87 ERA in 20.1 innings.
UPDATE 6:57 PM: Thoughts from Tim Williams…
This looks like a change of scenery type deal. Frieri wasn’t putting up good numbers for the Angels, and Grilli was struggling for the Pirates. I can’t speak to Frieri’s struggles, but Grilli didn’t look like he had it anymore. His fastball velocity was down, and his slider wasn’t effective, leading to a lower strikeout rate.
Just a quick look at Frieri shows that while his ERA is high this year, it’s largely due to an unlucky HR/FB ratio. He’s got a 21.1% ratio, but still outstanding strikeout numbers, and has actually shown improvements on his walk rate. His xFIP is 3.20, which is the more important stat for relievers. More importantly, a quick glance shows that he still has the same stuff from a velocity standpoint. Frieri is a few years younger than Grilli, so it’s less likely that this is a downward spiral for his career, and more likely that this is just a down year. By comparison, Grilli had a poor ERA, but also a poor xFIP at 4.58.
Salary-wise, there’s not much difference. Grilli was making $200,000 more than Frieri. From a control perspective, the Pirates control the rights of Frieri through the 2016 season, while Grilli was set to be a free agent after the season. This move makes sense all around for the Pirates. Grilli looks like he’s on the decline, while Frieri looks like he’s having bad luck. If you give Grilli a chance to bounce back, you just hopefully get a good reliever the rest of the season. If you give Frieri a chance to bounce back, you get a strong reliever for the rest of the season, who you control for two more seasons. For a team that needs bullpen help, this is a low risk, high reward type move that could pay off for multiple years if it works. If it doesn’t, you non-tender Frieri at the end of the year, and it’s no different than the current situation with Grilli.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.