Royals sign former Cubs relief pitcher after making latest round of roster cuts

Influenced by Wade Davis, pitcher Justin Grimm agrees to terms with Royals

The Royals on Sunday, March 18, 2018, announced the signing of former Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm, who said he talked to Wade Davis before accepting a one-year major-league contract to go to Kansas City.
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The Royals on Sunday, March 18, 2018, announced the signing of former Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm, who said he talked to Wade Davis before accepting a one-year major-league contract to go to Kansas City.

In a flurry of roster moves made within an hour, relief pitcher Justin Grimm found himself here on Sunday morning, standing in an interview room at the Royals’ spring-training complex with a camera trained on him.

Grimm, the former Cubs right-hander, had barely been in the building two hours when the Royals announced they had agreed to a one-year, major-league contract, which is worth a guaranteed $1.25 million with an additional $300,000 bonus in incentives based on game appearances.

The casualty of the transaction was pitcher Sam Gaviglio, who was designated for assignment about 40 minutes after being optioned to Class AAA Omaha on Sunday morning. Gaviglio was one of five players — including pitchers Miguel Almonte and Trevor Oaks, catcher Cam Gallagher and infielder Ramon Torres — who made up the Royals’ latest batch of roster cuts.

Grimm was still getting his bearings.

But when asked about his early impressions of the Royals organization, he didn’t hesitate. Grimm had done his homework and picked the brain of former Royals closer Wade Davis, who he’d become close to after Davis was traded to Chicago ahead of the 2017 season.

“He had really nice things to say about the city of Kansas City, the organization, the training staff, the coaches, from the top down,” Grimm said. “That’s one guy that I look up to … It definitely swayed my decision.”

Grimm was released Thursday by the Cubs, with whom he played for four-plus seasons and won a World Series championship. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be unemployed or if he’d have to go home to Nashville, Tenn., to continue training.

But the Royals were open to discussion, as they were still constructing their pitching staff. Relievers Kelvin Herrera and Brandon Maurer were the only names manager Ned Yost would publicly mention as locks for the bullpen. He said on a few occasions that there were still a few openings there.

Almonte, the 24-year-old prospect, seemed poised to earn one of them. He had piqued interest all spring training, carrying himself with new confidence and throwing a fastball that sits between 93 and 97 mph and hits the strike zone with consistency.

The new disposition had appeared to be serving Almonte well. He pitched nine innings over five Cactus League outings and limited hitters to six hits and two runs, one earned. He struck out eight batters and issued one walk and a hit-by-pitch.

“He’s trusting his ability and trusting his stuff and going out and getting after it,” Yost said. “Looks great, been very impressive. Very pleased to see it. Been waiting to see it for a while.”

But now will Almonte return to Class AAA, where the Royals will continue to debate whether the righty, who has primarily pitched as a starter in the minor leagues, will make a permanent transition to the bullpen.

That leaves the Royals with Grimm, whose numbers this spring — he allowed four earned runs in four, one-inning outings — didn’t inspire much confidence for the Cubs.

But his track record was encouraging enough for the Royals to take a leap of faith. Grimm, 29, made 50 appearances for the Cubs last season, going 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA (34 ER in 55 1/3 IP). After being traded from the Texas Rangers in 2013, Grimm was 11-12 with a 3.82 ERA in 263 appearances with the Cubs.

It wasn’t long ago that Grimm ranked fifth among National League relievers with a strikeout-per-nine-innings rate of 12.14 and posted a career-best 1.99 ERA during the 2015 season.

And in the midst of his struggles last year, Grimm posted a 0.73 ERA during June and also allowed one earned run in his final six outings of the season.

Grimm will have the opportunity to build on such progress in a Royals uniform this year.

“I feel healthy,” Grimm said. “I feel good. Just excited. It’s a fresh start.”