Acquired RHP Jason Grilli from Atlanta Braves in exchange for cash and RHP Sean Ratcliffe. [5/31]
Over a Memorial Day weekend during which their neighbors to the south basked, for the most part, in summertime air redolent with the particular smells of Weber, Coleman, and Lynx, the Toronto Blue Jays—demonstrating the piquant cheekiness largely unique to their home country—went out and got themselves a Grilli of their own.
Their model, 39 years old and lately of the Atlanta Braves, is unlikely to be especially good at throwing baseballs during whatever time he ends up spending north of the border. He is, however, unlikely to be particularly bad at throwing baseballs, either, and somewhere in between those two likelihoods lies the particular brilliance of Jason Grilli.
When Jason Grilli made his debut, Bartolo Colon weighed under 200 pounds and Justin Bieber weighed under 80. When Jason Grilli made his debut, Justin Timberlake still sported frosted tips, and nobody outside of Illinois had heard of Barack Obama. When Jason Grilli made his debut, the Padres were in last place. Sixteen years later, Bartolo Colon is pushing 350, Obama is nearly an ex-President, and the Padres are still in last place. Oh, and Jason Grilli is still pitching in the major leagues.
Crazily enough, he’s still pretty much the same pitcher he’s been for the last 100 years, too: a fastball at 93, a slider at 84, and nothing else—altogether no muss, no fuss, please stop by payroll to collect your paycheck every other Friday. If he keeps it up, he’ll be a solid bullpen option for a Blue Jays team that has the offensive side of the equation figured out but could use some help holding onto leads. If not, it’s not much of a loss, because it’s cash and A-ball pitchers Toronto has, and wins they seek. —Rian Watt
Designated RHP Edwin Jackson for assignment. [5/31]
This should have worked, but then, so many things should have. There’s really no great explanation for Jackson’s slow disintegration into baseball nothingness. Four years ago, whatever problems he might have had with turning over lineup cards and controlling the strike zone, Jackson threw in the mid-90s and could snap off a wicked slider in the mid-80s, one that would come from the same arm slot and appear to be in the same location and then roil violently down and away from a right-handed batter. He could even throw the pitch effectively to the back foot of lefties. He got tons of whiffs with that slider, and enough weak contact and called strikes with the fastball to be an effective mid-rotation starter.
He was still relatively young when he signed a four-year deal with the Cubs prior to 2013, and he still had his velocity, and he had (still has, really) a remarkably clean track record with regard to health. Everything else, though, abandoned him quickly in Chicago, and he’s now been cut loose by a third organization over the life of that deal without really finding it again.
You can trace the deadening of his stuff to throwing 170 innings at age 19, or to heavy use at 23 (he threw 116 pitches in two starts in May 2007, for instance), or to the Diamondbacks allowing him to throw nearly 150 pitches to complete a no-hitter. There just isn’t that much to support those theories. Jackson still throws hard sometimes (though not as hard as he used to; nobody throws as hard as they used to as they move into their 30s). He’s moved to relief, but found no extra gear, no revived life on the slider. His arm still works; he just can’t get anyone out anymore. —Matthew Trueblood
Designated OF-R Alex Guerrero for assignment. [5/31]
There was so much promise at one point for Alex Guerrero and the Dodgers. Maybe it's just more dramatic to single it out, but things seem to turn when Miguel Olivo bit off part of his left ear in a dugout skirmish during a Triple-A game in late May of 2014. He was hitting .376/.417/.735 in Albuquerque when that famous flesh-marring fracas went down, and would not return to Pacific Coast League action for over two months. Despite an underwhelming September call-up that same year, Guerrero rebounded to be an April sensation in 2015, clocking five home runs in his first 11 games even while reduced to part-time play and pinch-hitting, and looked like he might recover some of the potential for a power-hitting second baseman that originally inspired the Dodgers to give him a four-year, $28 million contract out of Cuba in October of 2013.
Or at least the power-hitting part. By 2015, any dream of Guerrero at second base had been abandoned, his arm did not make third base a suitable home, and slotting him in an outfield corner became less appealing the more apparent it became his power-hitting profile was power only (2.9 percent career walk rate in the majors). Guerrero suffering a knee contusion in the spring allowed the Dodgers to deal with their indecision about what to do with a flawed, position-less bat with a long rehab stint, but unable to find any trade partners/volunteers to eat the last year and four months of his contract, Los Angeles finally swung the DFA axe this week.
Anyone picking up the roughly $11.5 million tab for Guerrero is out of the question, and at 29, there's not much upside left or tremendous appeal to give him full-time work in a rebuild even after he clears waivers, especially since he's hit .136/.162/.197 this year during his rehab stint, mostly at Double-A Tulsa. A .190 career ISO in the majors means a curious team should hand him a minor-league deal, but that is likely all. —James Fegan
Designated 3B-L Colin Walsh for assignment. [5/31]
I feel like Robespierre. I have lived through the revolution, loved it, perpetuated it, swam in it and let it swim in me. I have watched the revolution’s dreams realized and crushed, not in quick succession or agonizing, slow succession, but in the same moments, and today, I know the revolution is dead, even as it lives on, and I feel despair.
Colin Walsh had a .447 OBP in the Texas League last season. He’s always had that on-base ability, and in 2015, he finally escaped a quagmire of minor injuries and pitchers’ parks and exploded. The Brewers took him in the Rule 5 draft, and I was smitten. Walsh was the new hope, the white knight of the Moneyball mavens. He could do it. He could be the next in a growing number of recent Rule 5 success stories. I believed.
Today, I know that belief was naïve. It’s not that Walsh isn’t who we thought he was; it’s that who he is isn’t enough. There’s an arresting beauty in Walsh’s final stat line with the Brewers, which reads: 63 plate appearances, 15 walks, 22 strikeouts, and four hits, for a batting line of .085/.317/.106. Only five players in baseball history have at least 50 career plate appearances and an OBP more than three times their batting average. Three (Ernie Koob, Bill Trotter, and Tom Acker) were pitchers. Then there’s Frank Hemphill, who played from 1906 until 1909, but made only 55 career trips to the plate, and batted .070/.259/.070. Then, or now, rather, there’s Walsh.
In 295 pitches seen this season, Walsh swung less often than all but one (J.J. Hardy) of the 383 other batters who have seen at least 150 pitches. He made contact on 66.3 percent of all swings, the 35th-lowest figure in that pool of 384. Combine those two, and you get a whole bunch of walks, way too many strikeouts, and you’re left needing a bunch of power (even if it’s just line-drive, high-BABIP power) to make your approach work. Walsh didn’t have that power, that punch. His 21 StatCast-measured balls in play averaged less than 86 miles per hour in exit velocity. Only three exceeded 100 miles per hour; only nine were over 92 mph. I count four balls that, with exit velocities north of 90 mph and launch angles in the sweet spot between 10 degrees and 35 or so, were very likely to become hits.
Extreme patience is no longer a good thing. Ten years ago, perhaps Walsh would have done well this way. Twenty years ago, I feel almost sure he would have. For myriad reasons, though, succeeding in MLB in 2016 means hitting the ball hard and taking a more aggressive approach. It takes what used to pass for a plus hit tool just to scratch out a living in the league these days. Colin Walsh doesn’t have that. He might be able to adjust, find a more modulated approach, and get back to the big leagues as a more viable utility man. For now, though, the last great symbol of the revolution is a failure. —Matthew Trueblood