Major League Baseball is frozen in a lockout right now, preventing any MLB transactions while the league and players association negotiate a new labor deal. However, teams can still sign minor league free agents, who aren’t on a 40-man roster and thus aren’t part of the players association.
The Oakland A’s have signed a few players in this fashion over the past several weeks, and with no other news right now they’re worth a look. After all, while minor league free agents might not seem exciting when they’re signed and most of them remain in Triple-A as depth, it’s not uncommon for some of them to reach the majors and make an impact.
The A’s latest addition on a minor league contract is pitcher Justin Grimm, reported Tim Hayes of The Bristol Herald Courier on Monday.
The right-handed Grimm has appeared in the majors in eight different seasons, for five clubs. He debuted in 2012 as a starter for the Rangers, then was traded to the Cubs the next summer. From 2014-16 he was a quality reliever for Chicago and even saw some setup duty, but in 2017 his effectiveness waned and in 2018 he got only brief cameos with the Royals and Mariners. He spent 2019 in the minors, pitched four MLB games for the Brewers in 2020, then went back to the minors again in 2021.
- Grimm, MLB career: 5.14 ERA, 360⅔ ip, 367 Ks, 158 BB, 48 HR, 4.20 FIP
- Grimm, 2014-16: 3.36 ERA, 171⅓ ip, 202 Ks, 76 BB, 13 HR, 3.20 FIP
In his best years, Grimm piled up strikeouts, kept the ball in the park, and got by with a mediocre walk rate. From 2014-16, he converted three saves and 36 holds while blowing just four leads. During those peak years he also averaged 95-96 mph on his fastball and topped out at 99, an uptick from his previous time as a starter, though his velocity began to fade after leaving Chicago — in limited duty from 2018-20, he dipped down to 93 on average with a max of 95.
Last season, Grimm posted intriguing numbers as a reliever in Triple-A, in Seattle’s farm system. His homer rate was enormous and his walk rate was still middling, but his strikeouts went through the roof.
- Grimm, 2021 AAA: 4.37 ERA, 47⅓ ip, 72 Ks, 21 BB, 11 HR, 5.62 FIP
That’s a strikeout rate of 13.69 K/9, or 33.6% of the batters he faced, both of which were Top 10 marks in the entire Triple-A West League (min. 30 innings). His 17.2% swinging-strike rate was third-best in the league, out of 152 names (min. 30 innings).
Now age 33, Grimm has a track record that includes a bit of past MLB success and a bit of promise in his most recent work. With his addition, Oakland now has three of last year’s top strikeout artists from all of Triple-A, joining holdover Domingo Acevedo and the return of Dany Jimenez.
The odds are never high for a minor league free agent, but success stories do happen. Last year the A’s found a bullpen keeper on a minors deal in Deolis Guerra, and they unearthed a couple hitters too in Jed Lowrie and Frank Schwindel. Guerra in particular offers a comparable case, as an early-30s reliever who bounced back after struggling for several years.
Can Grimm earn his way back to the majors in Oakland and miss some bats? Stay tuned to find out! There’s certainly opportunity to be had on the pitching staff as things currently stand, ready for somebody to seize the day, whether in spring training or as a midseason reinforcement. Add him to the list of lotto tickets for 2022.