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Pirates trade Jason Grilli for Ernesto Frieri, come out way ahead

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates announce that they have traded Jason Grilli to the Angels for fellow sometime-closer Ernesto Frieri.

One never knows what will happen with closers, who often do crazy things in 30-inning stretches, but I love love love this trade. Love it. Frieri has struggled this season, but unlike with Grilli, there's a bunch of evidence that there's still a pretty good pitcher in there. Frieri has a 6.39 ERA this season, but a 3.20 xFIP and a SIERA of just 2.56. He has 11 K/9 and just 2.6 BB/9. The problem is that he's a fly-ball pitcher, and this year the home runs are leaving the yard -- he's allowed eight. That's an abnormally high number in 31 innings, and it should regress. With his fly ball rate, he'll occasionally frustrate fans by allowing homers, but he shouldn't be allowing this many. Frieri is averaging 94.2 MPH on his fastball, so he still throws hard, and his walk rate shows that he's still capable of throwing strikes.

Also, best of all, Frieri is 28 and has two years of team control left, so if the numbers do normalize, the Pirates can keep him for two more seasons as a late-inning complement to Mark Melancon and Tony Watson. Frieri is making $3.8 million this season, but his arbitration raise should be minimal next offseason, given how superficially bad the first half of his season was. If he continues to struggle, they can let him go at the end of the season, so there isn't much risk, either. (In fact, Grilli was making $4 million this season, so the Pirates actually saved a bit of money.)

Speaking of Melancon, remember when the Pirates acquired him and everyone complained about his ERA? This is like that. This is the Pirates buying low on a player whose numbers jump off the page as being fluky. Like Melancon at the time of the Joel Hanrahan trade, Frieri looks like a good player masquerading as a bad one. The Pirates will give him a chance to take the costume off. If he does, they'll have a good eighth-inning guy, or perhaps even a closer. And if he doesn't, the Pirates only gave up Jason Grilli, who was pitching horribly (not masquerade-horribly, but actual-horribly) and was due to be a free agent after the season anyway. Grilli still has reasonably good stuff, so it wouldn't be a complete shock if he pulled it together down the stretch, but still, as gambles go, this one is fantastic.