Like every other team in Major League Baseball, the Cleveland Indians employ numerous players throughout their organization, from the big-league club in Cleveland to their rookie league team in Arizona and beyond. And like every other Major League franchise, the Indians add and subtract from this player pool on a regular basis. This irregular series will serve to post notice when a former Indians player has done something noteworthy with a quick look back at the player’s time in Cleveland.
Player: RHP Jason Grilli
Current Team: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Year(s) in Indians Organization: Signed a minor-league contract with the Indians on November 28, 2009; granted free agency on November 6, 2010
Why He Still Isn’t in Cleveland: Grilli was a former top prospect who had yet to sustain success in the majors. The Indians signed him to a minor league contract before the 2010 season, hoping he could take a spot in their bullpen. But he was 33 at the time and wasn’t in the Tribe’s long-term plans, so when he tore his right quadriceps during a sprinting drill during spring training and missed all of 2010, the Indians chose not to re-sign him after the season (Jordan Brown was also injured that day, if you like flashbacks). He never threw a pitch for the Indians.
What He Did: After the Indians let him go following the 2010 season, Grilli eventually signed another minor league deal with the Phillies in January of 2011 before being released on July 20. The next day, the Pirates signed him to a major league deal, and he pitched 32 2/3 innings of 2.48 ERA baseball (supported by a 3.30 FIP and 3.54 xFIP) for Pittsburgh down the stretch in 2011. He continued to thrive in 2012 and 2013, making the All-Star team last season as the Pirates’ closer. 2014 has been a different story, however, as the 37-year old Grilli struggled mightily and eventually lost the closer’s role to Mark Melancon. Earlier this week, the Pirates dealt him to the Angels in exchange for another struggling former closer — Ernesto Frieri. Grilli has already debuted with his new team, throwing a perfect inning of relief for the Angels on Saturday against the Royals.
What Does the Future Hold: The Angels are hoping that Grilli can reestablish himself and become the team’s closer, but won’t start him out in that role immediately. As you’ve probably heard by now, the Angels have struggled in the late innings this season, and their team ERA of 5.44 in the ninth inning or later is the second-worst mark in baseball — only ahead of the Detroit Tigers, who have a 6.84 ERA in the same scenarios. Clearly, if Grilli can show glimpses of his Pittsburgh days, the closing job for the Angels is his to lose. But his peripherals aren’t nearly what they have been the past few seasons, as his 2.00 K/BB ratio this season isn’t close to the 5.69 ratio he posted last year, or the 4.09 ratio he posted in 2012. He’s striking out hitters at a much smaller rate than he has been the past few seasons, and he’s given up a lot more walks as well. But there are two factors working in Grilli’s favor: the fact that he’s had success in the majors recently, and the fact that the Angels aren’t currently swimming in viable ninth-inning options. Don’t be surprised if Grilli takes over as the Angels’ closer before the end of the season.
Notice a player you remember being in the Indians organization? We’re ever-vigilant, but sometimes we miss guys, too! Send us an email at [email protected] and let us know which former Indians farmhand or player is making noise elsewhere.