Jason Grilli is the Pittsburgh Pirates' new closer, and he moves into the job with mixed emotions.
Grilli is excited to have the chance to close after spending 10 years in the major leagues with six different teams. However, the 36-year-old journeyman was sad to see closer Joel Hanrahan traded to the Boston Red Sox as part of a six-player deal on Dec. 26.
"I'm really looking forward to that challenge, but I'm disappointed, too, to see a good teammate go," Grilli said. "Joel's a great guy. We gave up a good player."
Grilli has just five career saves, including a single-season-high two last season. However, the Pirates feel he has the stuff and peripheral statistics to be a potentially dominant closer.
While Grilli had a 1-6 record last season, his ERA was 2.91 in 64 games, and he struck out 90 and walked 22 in 58 2/3 innings. He had 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a 4.09 strikeout/walk ratio, both outstanding figures.
According to fangraphs.com, Grilli's fastball averaged 93.6 mph.
Hanrahan converted 76 of 84 save opportunities over the past two seasons and was selected to the NL All-Star team both years. In 2012, he went 5-2 with 36 saves and a 2.72 ERA in 63 relief appearances.
Grilli became a free agent at the end of last season, but the Pirates re-signed to a two-year, $6.75-million contract on Dec. 12.
Though it was known at the time that the Pirates were trying to trade Hanrahan rather than potentially pay him a $7 million salary in 2013 through arbitration, Grilli and his agent, former slugger Gary Sheffield, did not have any performance bonuses put into his contract based on games finished.
The Pirates also included infield prospect Brock Holt in the trade, which brought back right-handed reliever Mark Melancon, first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr. and right-handed pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel.
The trade looks like a salary dump on the surface. Melancon is the only one of the four players coming from Boston who is likely to be on the Opening Day roster, though Sands will compete for one of two open corner outfield spots. However, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington defended the trade when asked if it were motivated by finances.
"Trading Joel was a difficult decision, but we found what we think is a good baseball trade," Huntington said.