Three Reasons Why the Pirates Should Trade Joel Hanrahan

It’s only April 15th, but two contenders have already seen their closers go down to injuries. The Boston Red Sox lost Andrew Bailey for four months, while the San Francisco Giants just lost Brian Wilson for the year due to an elbow injury.

The Red Sox are currently going with Alfredo Aceves, while the Giants have Sergio Romo leading their options. Romo was one of the most dominant relievers last year, and wouldn’t be a bad choice as a closer. In fact, if Wilson wasn’t on the Giants, Romo probably would have been the top closing option, based on his 2011 results.

If either team looks for an early season trade for a closer, the Pirates should try to step in to the talks. Joel Hanrahan has one more year of arbitration following the 2012 season. He was one of the top closers in the league last year, but hasn’t had any chances for saves this year.

It’s early in the season, and the Pirates will definitely need a closer throughout the year. However, they also need to focus on the long term. The start of the season hasn’t been good. The Pirates have gone up against a lot of top pitchers, and have the toughest April schedule in the NL. But all things considered, no one really predicted that the team would finish with more than 72-75 wins this year. So if the Pirates dealt their top closer early, it wouldn’t rob them of a competitive season.

There are plenty of reasons for the Pirates to deal Hanrahan, but here are the top three reasons:

1. Closers Bring Big Values in Trades. Last year we saw guys like Mike Adams receiving top 50 pitching prospects, plus an additional prospect in return. And that was just for set up men. Oakland received outfield prospect Josh Reddick and two other players for Andrew Bailey. Reddick was the number seven prospect in Boston’s system heading in to the 2011 season. He hit for a .280/.327/.457 line in 254 at-bats with Boston last year, hitting seven homers in the process. A closer like Hanrahan, with almost two years of service time remaining, could bring in multiple prospects, highlighted by a very talented player.

2. Closers Lose Their Value Quickly. All it would take for Hanrahan to go from a top trade chip to having very little value is a few bad outings. Want proof? Take a look at…Joel Hanrahan. He started off great in Washington in 2008. In 2009 he struggled, with an ERA over seven an several blown saves. The Pirates acquired him in a trade that sent Nyjer Morgan to Washington and Lastings Milledge to Pittsburgh. The swap of Hanrahan for Sean Burnett at the time looked to be made to tip the scales more in Washington’s favor. So far, Hanrahan has been the best player from that trade, due to his return to being a dominant reliever. But it wouldn’t take long for him to return to having zero value if he had another bad start. The Pirates saw this happen in 2009 with Matt Capps.

3. The Pirates Shouldn’t Spend on a Closer. Hanrahan has been following Heath Bell’s path through arbitration. Bell received $1.255 M in his first year. He received $4 M in his second year. His third year of arbitration landed him a $7.5 M deal. All three deals were pre-arb agreements. Hanrahan has been slightly higher than Bell, making $1.4 M in year one, and $4.1 M in year two. If he repeats his 2011 success in 2012, he could easily land $7.5-8 M next year in his final year of arbitration. With relievers like Jonathan Papelbon getting four year, $50 M deals, a $7.5 M salary for Hanrahan wouldn’t be out of the question for some teams. But the Pirates can’t afford to spend 15-20% of their total payroll on a closer, especially when the closer position isn’t that hard to fill.

Closers are already dropping around the league to injuries, and more closers will fall due to poor performance. That should set up another strong market for the closer position by the trade deadline. But if the Pirates can get a deal sooner, they should take it. Dealing Hanrahan isn’t going to hurt their short-term chances, and could greatly improve the team’s long-term outlook.


About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • Ross

    while I do agree with you on this Tim, if this indeed happened, this would just go in the bank of all yinzer Pirate fans’ minds as the “Pirates trading away their good players like usual for prospects” and they will never let this down and ramble on about it for years and years. who knows what they could get in exchange for Hanrahan with the Red Sox or Giants (neither of them have good systems at all so I really don’t know if they would be the right trade partners). if this indeed happened, the fiery hatred towards the Pirates that already existed will increase even more from fans

    • John Lease

       Because, we’ve never seen that before…

      • Ross

        so you disagree with Tim’s theory of trading Hanrahan is the best idea?? because thats dumb. and actually, the only legit “good players” that stayed good after they left the pirates and were actual bad deals were Aramis and Schmidt. not Bay, Nady, McLouth, Jack Wilson, Freddy. even if the Bay and Freddy players arent producing much, Freddy is very injury prone now an Bay sucks

        • donald orris

          To paraphrase Billy Beane, “fans don’t run my team.”  You do the deal to make the team competitive ling term.  The fans will ultimately come back if the team is competitive.

          • Ross

            I HIGHLY doubt that my friend… I am one of the the people that agreed wholeheartedly with Tim and thinks if we can get a great price out of Hanrahan, that dish him away. I am not one of those radical and wacko Pirate fans that dwell on “they always trade away their good players” nonsense. i agree with you, do the deal to make the team betetr long term

  • Ross

    i’d say if we dealt Hanrahan to Boston, if they want him that bad, I would ask for one of Lavarnway (#92 on or Middlebrooks (#55 on to be the cornerstone for what would be coming to the Pirates. nothing more, nothing less. both of them are solid prospects that are pretty much Major League ready and both have power at two positions that the Pirates lack it (Lavarnway at C, Middlebrooks at 3rd). its pretty much the exact same situation Reddick was in with Boston, so this would be like that deal they made with Oakland

  • dropkickmurphys

    I’m in complete agreement with Tim’s post.  Even if trading Hanrahan means going from a 72 win team this year, to a 60 win team; if it improves the team in the long term, it should be done.  Trading Hanrahan for the right deal is the right move.

    • Ross

      i dont think losing a closer with only one season of elite closer status (even considering the fact that he dropped off the 2nd half of last season too) will drop a team from 72 wins to 60 wins. thats just absurd to even think ONE PLAYER is worth 12 wins. Hanrahan posted a 2.9 WAR last season. the ONLY guy in the Major Leagues last year that would fit even close to your philosophy of losing 12 wins would be Matt Kemp since he posted a 10 WAR last season.
      and remember that the Pirates do have a few guys that could definitely take the reigns as closer and do an effective job at it….Grilli, Cruz, Meek

      • dropkickmurphys

        I don’t either. That’s why that sentence started with the words “even if”.  It was simply a means of comparison.  We are in agreement.

        I think closers are the one of easiest roles (all of the other easy ones being in the pen too) on the team to fill.  The closer is a role that a team should worry about when it is ready to compete.  If the current closer can net 1, 2 or 3 prospects, then move him.

        Honestly, a team like the Pirates both in terms of market and competitiveness, should move a successful closer every two years or so.

  • Michael Mawhinney

    Bryan Morris=future Pirates closer

  • st1300b

    This will surely be one of the posts that gets more than a few responses. Hanrahan is not just a fan favorite, he is one of the elite players on the team – and we don’t have that many elite players. However, I agree with Tim that if a real value opportunity is available you take it and that goes for any player. I don’t think this team can afford to make mistakes though in deals that call for our elite players, so they better be damn sure.
    As far as if they did move Hanrahan, I believe they do NOT have an ace arm on the team at this time to replace him. I’ve read the articles that speak to the capability of Grilli, Meek, and even Resop has been mentioned but I’ve watched all these guys enough to know that they may be good setup men, but none of them has the moxie to close. Grilli of anyone in the pen is probably the closest though. I certainly don’t agree with Bryan Morris – at least not for several years. His stuff isn’t electric, good enough for a pen, but not closer stuff. I’d like Duke Welker and Justin Wilson type arms if we are to look to the future prospects. 

    • Ross

      Grilli, Meek, and Cruz could be closers. and Morris is definitely an option as a closer and you have to be crazy to think his stuff isnt good enough to close because he’s currently at 3.2 innings pitched with 9 strikeouts in Triple A Indy. if thats not electric stuff, i dont know what is. last yr in Altoona he had 64 K’s in 78 innings with a strikeouts per nine with 7.4. those are great numbers right there. and you dont have to be high 90s with the fastball to be a closer, thats not a requirement. look at Javy Guerra from the Dodgers, he’s 93-95 with the fastball. even think of Rivera, he hasnt thrown that hard at all in a while yet hes still effective with that cutter. all you have to do is pretty much has 2 effective pitches to be a closer

      • dropkickmurphys

        The reality of closers is that any failed starter is a potential closer.  If Mike Williams can post some high save years, just about anyone can.  For a team that likley won’t win 75 games, a closer isn’t something that they really need.  If the Pirates get what they want for Hanrahan, they should not wait.

  • Nate

    Lavarnway or Bogaerts and Ranaudo?

  • John Lease

    Because the Pirate front office got such great return on Bay, we should go ahead and trade Hanrahan.


    • gregenstein

      Yes, there have been bad trades and good trades. Just because they blew it with Bay doesn’t mean trading Hanrahan is the wrong thing to do. I’m sure Brian Cashman would have liked a refund on that Nady/Marte trade, but that one doesn’t matter either. Put simply, a closer doesn’t help a whole heluva lot when you aren’t in position to win much.

      I tend to agree with others here though that closers can be found. It seems to be a lot harder for this team to find a competent right fielder (at least with the stick).

      We all know Neal can build a bullpen on the cheap anyway! :-)

    • Ross

      what has Jason Bay done since he left the Pirates???? yeah i thought so. a lot of the guys they let go were AVERAGE major leaguers that were thriving for a small market franchise in somewhat of an average division and when they left to go to big time teams (Bay to BOS, Nady to NYY, McLouth to ATL, Freddy to SF) to face tougher competition and way higher expectations for that team and the player themselves, they crumbled. granted, Freddy was part of the Giants WS team, but hes now extremely prone

      • formerdraftpick

        After he left the Pirates, didn’t he hit over 30 homeruns for Boston, drive in 100 rbis, was an All-Star, Silver Slugger, and came in the top 10 for MVP voting?  I guess nothing. 

  • HankS

    100% Agree,  Teams with money right now are spending on Closers, the Yankees are going to need a new closer and tons of them are hurt right now.  If Hanrahan is as hot as he was last yr Pirates should trade him and get everything they can for him.  Now I also wish that Hanrahan would stay because I like him a lot but if we are looking at the long run then trading him is the best thing to do.

  • sweetleb

    boston maybe a little gun shy in trading for another closer, giants have one in the wings. So who else needs a closer?

  • John Lease

    Losers dismantle their team 2 weeks into the season.  Granted, the Pirates are historic losers, but really? 

  • Paul Newmeyer

    Trade Hanrahan now if the deal is there.  Develop Resop, Grilli, or even Cruz as the closer going forward for this year.  If one of those three could run with it and have success they could be flipped at the deadline.  At that point Moskos and Morris should be ready to step in and set up or close.  Just because there may be a little ray of light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean we should stop trading for prospects.  With this payroll and owners, Neal will have to do so nearly every year to keep things going.  Trade high and Hanrahan will never be higher. 

  • eeee12

    “So if the Pirates dealt their top closer early, it wouldn’t rob them of a competitive season.”
    Complete speculation. Also, what about 2013?
    2. Closers Lose Their Value Quickly  – Matt Capps netted Wilson Ramos. That’s pretty good. Hanrahan netted Washington 4.4 WAR+ in the 2.33 seasons since this deal. That’s pretty good.

    The prospects are enticing and point 3 is valid though it depends on the budget for next year. In the end, I still think you are off the mark.

    • Tim Williams

      What’s speculation about that comment? For 2013, or any year really, I don’t think the closer position is that hard to fill.

      RE: Capps. He only netted Ramos after seeing his value rebound in 2010.
      Hanrahan wasn’t the key piece of the Washington trade. Lastings Milledge was.

      I’m not sure what I’m off the mark about. And if you don’t like my stance on closers, you won’t like the “First Pitch” tonight.

  • JohnDreker

    Hanrahan began the year as a very likely trade candidate at the trading deadline, by waiting until then you may limit your return(team gets less from him) or your opportunities to trade him for value because other closers/relievers will also be available and be on the trading block. If some team wants him now for the right price, they need to move him now. A few extra wins this year aren’t going to accomplish anything when you’re talking about moving from the 70(without him) to 75(with him) range

  • Ross

    like i said above, if the Red Sox want him, we wouldnt have to worry about facing him. and Huntington should force Cherington to give either Lavarnway or Middlebrooks with 1 or 2 other guys in return for Hanrahan. if the Red Sox want help for their pathetic bullpen, they need to trade strengths to patch up their big weakness which is their bullpen

  • Mike

    Lavarnway is a must for this organization , plus one other good prospect.