The Tigers traded Grilli on Wednesday to the Rockies in exchange for Minor League prospect Zach Simons, a Class A right-handed reliever. The move creates room for Cruceta to join the Tigers on Thursday, when he'll try to carry his dominant numbers from Triple-A Toledo into the big leagues.
In an offseason when the Tigers made a slew of acquisitions, Cruceta was their lone Major League free-agent signing, added after spending the entire 2007 season at Triple-A Oklahoma in the Rangers organization. He was in line to get a shot at seventh- or eighth-inning setup work for Detroit heading into the Spring Training until the Dominican native had trouble getting approval from the Federal government for his work visa. He began the season on Major League Baseball's restricted list before his visa was approved a few weeks ago.
After a week of workouts, Cruceta joined the bullpen in Triple-A Toledo on a 16-day evaluation period before the Tigers had to move him off the restricted list and either add him to the active roster, trade him or outright him to the Minors. Given his performance, it was more a matter of when and how the Tigers would add him.
Cruceta pitched in three games for Toledo, allowing one run on two hits over seven innings with 15 strikeouts.
"Our reports on him have been outstanding," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's been throwing the ball very, very well. Everybody [who has watched him] has said he's ready."
The odd man out in the Tigers bullpen ended up being Grilli. In trading him, the Tigers dealt a mercurial, hard-throwing reliever who had spent the last three-plus seasons following in his father's footsteps of pitching in the Tigers organization.
Signed as a Minor League free agent in 2005, Grilli went from an effective starter at Triple-A Toledo to a versatile man in the Tigers bullpen for the last two years. He led the team and finished fourth in the American League with 79 2/3 relief innings, while stranded 37 of 53 inherited runners.
He had drawn a range of reactions from Tigers fans, inspired in part by a vast difference in his performances at Comerica Park compared to everywhere else. He had a 1.91 ERA and .184 batting average allowed in road games last year, compared to a 7.96 ERA and .335 average at home.
Grilli gave up five runs on seven hits in two innings over two consecutive outings earlier this month against the White Sox and at Boston. Since then, he had scattered four hits over 11 1/3 scoreless innings in his last six appearances.
That wasn't enough to keep him off the block when Cruceta showed he was ready.
"Jason's pitched better, no question," Dombrowski said. "He's pitched well for us recently. But we were in a spot [where bullpen roles were determined]. We think Zach [Miner] is throwing the ball much better [now compared to earlier this season]. We think he deserves to stay here. We had to make a decision one way or another."
Grilli had anticipated a choice like that.
"I'm arbitration-eligible," Grilli said. "There's several guys here who pretty much can do the same thing as me. Miner's got a year and a half of doing the same kind of role. [Armando] Galarraga's doing a heck of a job. He's got [Minor League] options. I know this business. With Cruceta and all the hype and talk about him, they're trying to create a roster spot. There's things happening around here. It's been on the tip of the tongue since Spring Training, even this offseason.
"I won't be the last. When one move gets made, there's usually several others that follow."
Nevertheless, the move drew mixed emotions from Grilli, still clearly stung by boos at home earlier this season but anticipating a deal that could put him on another club.
"I think I did a good job for what my role was," Grilli said. "I know there's a lot of people who probably would think differently. But to those people, I'm going to say thank you, because I'm a bigger person than people who don't like the way my eyebrows are, my face, or the way I pitch.
"Maybe I was the lightning rod for that on this team. But I surely didn't get cheered as much for the role that I was given, I thought."
Simons, a 22-year-old right-hander drafted by Colorado in the second round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, has made seven relief appearances for Class A Modesto. He has allowed four earned runs on 12 hits in 13 1/3 innings, walking nine and striking out 14.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.