Oct 6, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli (39) celebrates after game three of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
I love Jason Grilli. I love his story, I love his attitude and I love his leadership. For three months last season there wasn’t a more dominant closer in baseball and his two-year deal looked to be a huge bargain for the Pirates.
And then the Washington Nationals game happened on July 22nd.
Grilli exited in the middle of the 9th inning with what looked to be a major elbow injury. Luckily, it wasn’t a Tommy John special, yet it was still a serious enough ailment to shelve the hurler for 5 weeks. When he returned to active duty September, 4th, he wasn’t the same pitcher. His fastball didn’t quite have that bite – his confidence and swagger was muted too. Lets face it, he was very hittable.
A few days ago the Pittsburgh Tribune reported that Grilli is open to a contract extension. His agent is Gary Sheffield, and although Sheffield was a great ballplayer he isn’t exactly Scott Boros in the boardroom. Grilli is his only client and he didn’t get a sweet deal for his former teammate last January. And now there is talk that Dave Stewart is trying to poach Jason away from Sheff the same way Bob Sugar attempted to poached away Rod Tidwell in the movie Jerry Maguire. This according to Deadspin.com. If Sheffield remains Grilli’s agent then you know the pricetag won’t be high for an extension. If Bob Sugar…err…Dave Stewart becomes Jason’s agent then they’ll probably be not much of a hometown discount. Either way if I’m Neal Huntington I politely decline.
Like I said, I love Grilli and am glad he’s the stopper for 2014 campaign. What I’m not enamored with is the odometer. He’s 37, has an injury rap-sheet a mile long and if the Pirates get another solid year out of him they should consider themselves lucky and run. Closers are the easiest position to fill for General Managers. Unless you have a Mariano Rivera, it’s good business not to give these players huge contracts because more often than not they come back to bite you in the fanny. Ask Ruben Amaro Jr. how he’s feeling about the deal he gave Jonathan Papelbon. Once the 2nd most dominate stopper in the game the Phillies can’t give Paps away. John Axford two seasons ago had 46 Saves and was being compared in Milwaukee to Rollie Fingers. He ended up last year as the Cardinals mop-up guy after blowing more leads for the Brewers than the Dallas Cowboys do in December. Just look at the Pirates for more evidence. Joel Hanrahan, like Grilli, was an All-Star who dominated opposing batters. Neal Huntington sent him packing to Boston just as he was about to get a big payday and unfortunately for Joel, he blew out his elbow. Grilli takes over the job and the rest is history.
Grilli is valuable to the Pirates because he’s cost effective and gets the job done. After this coming season he’ll either no longer be cost effective – if he has another good year and his elbow stays intact – or he’ll not have gotten the job done if he has a bad season or gets hurt. Locking him up now would be prudent if he were 32, but he’s not. He’s 37. He’ll be 38 at the start of next year and how many 38 year olds do you know are effective closers? Plus, the elbow is a major concern. He’s already had Tommy John done early in his career so he is susceptible for having another UCL tear. The Bucs got burned last year with Jeff Karstens contract. They signed him for what they thought was a discount and then he managed to thrown a whopping zero innings in 2013 for the big club. He got paid to sit in the dugout and wave a towel and visit schools. This can be Grilli in 2015 if the Bucs aren’t careful. His age and injury risk is just too chancy to extend him. This should be, and probably will be, his last year in Pittsburgh.
So Jason Grilli – No Extension for you!!