Jason Grilli’s $3 million option: A decision put in the context of free agency
Jason Grilli posted a 3.64 ERA in 46 appearances with the Toronto Blue Jays after a trade from Atlanta on May 31st
The Toronto Blue Jays have bigger decisions than Jason Grilli’s $3 million option on their immediate horizon, but the eventual yay-or-nay will significantly impact the team’s 2017 bullpen picture.
The 39-year-old reliever quickly rediscovered his peak form after coming over in a savvy midseason deal, and for some time it looked as if the $3 million price tag for 2017 (with a $250K buyout) would be easy to pick up. Grilli did have his struggles down the stretch, but with Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit both headed towards free agency, Toronto needs something in front of Roberto Osuna.
Essentially, Toronto’s decision comes down to one question: Is the certainty of having Grilli for $3 million something they are comfortable with, or do they think that a well-spent $3 million could produce better results elsewhere?
To answer that, some context from the 2015-16 free agent market could be helpful.
Just Under $3M
Jim Johnson (1yr, $2.5M) – A 50-save closer as recently as 2013 for the Baltimore Orioles, Johnson signed with the Atlanta Braves and pitched to a 3.06 ERA over 65 games. He earned 20 saves, struck out more than a batter per inning, and limited his home runs allowed.
Matt Albers (1yr, $2.25M, $3M 2017 team opt.) – Albers, on the other hand, represents what can go wrong with this brand of small deal. The right-hander was rocked in 2016, racking up a 6.31 ERA in 58 games while posting the worst strikeout rate of his career
Yusmeiro Petit (1yr, $2.5M, $3M 2017 team opt.) – Another right-hander with a $3 million team option in year two — a theme we could see continue — Petit was linked to the Blue Jays before eventually signing with the Washington Nationals. He made 36 appearances that totalled 62 innings, but with a 4.50 ERA.
Just Over $3M
Neftali Feliz (1yr, $3.9M) – After being released by the Texas Rangers in early December, Feliz latched on with Pittsburgh and it turned out to be a fine deal for both sides. The 28-year-old modestly re-established himself with a 3.52 ERA over 62 appearances and an excellent 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Jerry Blevins (1yr, $4M) – Specialists are also found at this dollar value, which is where Blevins comes in. His 73 appearances for the Mets were spread across just 42.0 innings as he primarily faced left-handed hitters and ended the season with a cumulative ERA of 2.79. Oddly enough, his splits were marginally stronger against right-handed hitters, but his overall contribution still held value.
Joe Blanton (1yr, $4M) – Another arm coveted by some Blue Jays fans last offseason, Blanton’s one-year deal worked out very well for the Los Angeles Dodgers (though his NLCS performance has soured that). For the regular season Blanton made it into 75 games and pitched 80.0 innings with a 2.48 ERA, value that any club would be pleased with at $4 million.
Next: Does the qualifying offer make sense for Blue Jays, Saunders?
What this means for Jason Grilli
There is an advantage in Grilli being a known commodity to Toronto’s staff. One-year reliever contracts in the range of $2 million to $4 million can be a true roll of the dice as most of the names listed above were coming off of injuries, a poor season, or had some other factor limiting them from a second year guaranteed.
Granted, 40-year-old relievers are not Major League Baseball’s most sought-after commodity. Perhaps four or five stabs at finding a rebounding reliever for the league minimum produces an even more valuable signing, but that opens up a variable for the Blue Jays. Variables, at this point, aren’t attractive.
Neither outcome would be overwhelmingly surprising with Grilli, but the option to enter the offseason with one bullpen hole already plugged should be very appealing to the Blue Jays.