Thursday, June 2, 2016

Braves Throw Away the Grill(i)

By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday's trade of Jason Grilli is reminiscent of the trade of Jhoulys Chacin. The Braves appear to get little out of the trade outside of opening a spot on the 25-man roster from a veteran. The promising results from Mike Foltynewicz and Williams Perez made the Chacin trade a plus for Atlanta. Grilli's immediate replacement is Ryan Weber. That's not quite as exciting.

Signing Grilli was a bit of a surprise in the offseason of 2014-15. After an All-Star campaign in 2013, Grilli had lost his closer job the following year with the Pirates before being pushed to the Angels to end the season. Like Jim Johnson, Grilli was a former closer who could bring the bullpen depth. Unlike the one-year "show me" offer Johnson accepted, Grilli was more desired by the Braves and received at least $8M in guaranteed salary out of the deal with an addition $2.75 million to be earned in 2017 if his option was exercised. Right before his first season with the Braves, Grilli was named closer in the wake of Craig Kimbrel's trade to the Padres.

He was superb from there with a 4.5 K/BB rate over 33.2 innings and 24 saves. It was All-Star-quality first half right up until he hurt his Achilles running toward first base to field a throw on a grounder. It ended his 2015 season and really ended Grilli's run as a top closer. A late start this spring didn't keep him from joining the major league roster, but he blew a save on opening day and would be dinged up for runs on five of his nine April outings. From there, he lost his big innings appointment and rarely worked with a close lead. The fact that the Braves were going with Bud Norris over Grilli is all you need to know.

The trade saved very little in terms of salary as the Blue Jays will merely cover a pro-rated portion of a major league minimum. The Braves received right-hand pitcher Sean Ratcliffe out of the deal. A native to Canada, Ratcliffe was an 18th rounder in 2013 who was known more as a prep catcher than a pitcher. The move to full-time pitcher was difficult on Ratcliffe as he showed little control in two stints in the Gulf Coast League (21 BB to 15 K over 22.1 ING). Hard work led to some clear improvements in 2015. Over 40 innings, he walked just 16 and struck out 30. Over his last eight games, he walked just two in 17.1 innings.

The reason the Jays were in love with his arm was that he can throw hard (mid-90's) with a slider that could be a plus pitch someday. It's a long road to getting a productive arm, but some scout probably liked his potential. A pitcher with his profile has a chance for big strikeout numbers, but that comes with the ability to throw strikes early-and-often in counts. Ratcliffe is not there, yet.

If this trade seems "meh," it's because it is. The Braves received little out of this trade except a live arm with three years of professional experience and no games at full-season A-ball. With that in mind, the Braves probably felt that any offer for Grilli was "good enough." Ratcliffe, like Adam McCreery, gives the Braves another arm with a chance. That's about it.

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