Grilli among four Tribe spring invites
Experienced reliever hopes to earn spot on young staff
Jason Grilli is heading back to the American League Central. In the process, he's hoping he has a chance to stick around a while.
Grilli will compete for a job in Spring Training with a chance to provide another experienced arm to a Cleveland bullpen that could use some experience. He would get an $800,000 base salary if he spends the year in Cleveland, the same number he had this past season, plus incentives based on workload.
"I just like the fit," Grilli said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "I love the stadium. The division is something I'm very familiar with as far as travel and the players. There were just more positives than negatives."
Grilli had hinted at a deal on his Twitter account last week, saying he was moving on to his seventh Major League stop but not naming the team. Once news leaked Wednesday, he admitted he was heading back to Cleveland to play for his third team in the division.
Indians fans would best remember Grilli from Detroit, where he became a key long and middle man during the Tigers' run to the World Series in 2006. He pitched in a variety of situations in '07 and into '08 before he was traded to Colorado.
From there, it has been a stretch on the move. Grilli settled into setup duty with the Rockies in 2008, going 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 51 appearances before a slow start in '09 prompted Colorado to designate him for assignment. The Rangers put him into their bullpen, where he went 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA in 30 games, covering 26 1/3 innings and flashing good life on his fastball.
Once Texas removed him from the 40-man roster rather than deal with a potential arbitration case, he was on the move again, this time as a free agent. Between changing teams and heading to Spring Training, he counts eight times in which he and his family have packed up and moved over the past two years. Originally a first-round pick of the Giants, he also has pitched with the Marlins and White Sox.
He's hoping his latest destination gives him a shot to settle back into a regular role.
"People are seeing what I'm doing," Grilli said. "I've had just under five years of service time [in the Majors]. I've been consistent in the role that I've been given the past four seasons. I just want to continue to grow.
"Every year I call a pivotal year. This is the most pivotal year of my career. I'm tired of moving around. This might be the greatest fit, because [the Indians] need help in the bullpen."
They certainly could benefit from experience. Other than closer Kerry Wood, the only Tribe pitcher on the 40-man roster who will be 30 years old on Opening Day is starter Jake Westbrook. Grilli, who turned 33 years old last month, has 238 Major League appearances on his resume over the course of eight seasons.
Gosling will turn 30 next September. He made 15 appearances out of the Indians' bullpen this past season, allowing 14 earned runs on 30 hits over 25 innings.
Like Grilli, Buscher and Rodriguez are well aware of the AL Central, having both spent time with Minnesota. Buscher spent three years there, splitting this past season as a corner infielder between the Twins and Triple-A Rochester. He batted .235 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 136 at-bats in Minnesota.
Rodriguez, a Twins utility infielder from 2005-07, spent the past two seasons in San Diego. He hit .202 in San Diego in 2009, with two homers and 16 RBIs in 208 at-bats over 93 games.
Grilli had other opportunities, including interest from seven other teams and an opportunity with the Washington Nationals. He went with the Indians because of the opportunity and the location. Beyond knowing the team and the division, he also knows the drive up Interstate 90 to his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y.
"This is team No. 7," Grilli reflected. "All things being considered, I like Cleveland, the organization and the history, where they stand. I know they're in kind of a rebuilding phase. But just looking at the defense as a pitcher and the organization [helped]. Being that they've seen me pitch quite a bit when I was with the Tigers, they had the best chance to see me at my best, and they said they needed a veteran arm in the bullpen."
There's still a chance Grilli could change teams again. With a Minor League contract and no spot on the 40-man roster, he's eligible for next week's Rule 5 Draft. A team wanting to add an arm could draft him for $50,000 and bring him to Spring Training. If he didn't make the big league club, he would have to be offered back for $25,000.
"I'm very indifferent and immune to being jostled around," Grilli said. "If you see the landscape of my transaction sheet, it's pretty extensive. I fear nothing when I take the mound. I like the challenge. That's why I'm still here, and I'll be here until I decide to hang it up."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.