Neither the Los Angeles Angels or the Pittsburgh Pirates were happy with their incumbent closers, as Jason Grilli and Ernesto Frieri both struggled and were ultimately replaced at the back end of the bullpen. On Friday afternoon, the two teams came to a mutual agreement to provide a change of scenery to the pair, swapping them in a one-for-one trade.
It will be interesting to see how the two teams deploy their newly acquired bullpen arms. In Pittsburgh, a month-long trip to the disabled list for Grilli (oblique strain) allowed Mark Melancon to show he could handle the role, converting 14 of 17 opportunities. Grilli returned to the role upon being activated on May 23rd, but a rough June showed just how short a leash the Pirates were willing to give him, as he lost the job on June 20th.
Control issues have cost the 37-year-old Grilli dearly, as he’s struggled to a 4.87 ERA, a 5.36 FIP, and has blown 4 saves in 15 opportunities. However, his 4.9 BB/9 ratio is 2.6 higher than it was during his All-Star campaign in 2013, and 1.0 higher than his career mark. Coupled with a sharp decline in strike-outs, down from 13.3 to 9.3 in 2014 and you have a formula for decline.
Still, the Angels are hoping that he is a drastic improvement over Frieri, who split save opportunities with Joe Smith in Los Angeles before the trade. They will likely give him the chance to assert himself into the role and return Smith to a set-up role.
At 28-years-old, Frieri still has a lot of upside, having posted a 2.76 ERA, a 3.44 FIP, and a 12.3 K/9 ratio. However, 4 blown saves and a 6.39 ERA in 31 innings of work in 2014 destroyed the Angels confidence in a closer who had saved 37 games a season ago. Despite reducing his walk rates to a career-low 2.61 BB/9, Frieri has been homer-prone in 2014, surrendering them at a rate of 21.1% HR/FB.
Grilli will be a free agent upon completion of the 2014 season. Frieri is under team control with two more years of arbitration eligibility and will not be a free agent until after the 2016 season.