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.