The Pittsburgh Pirates are catching some flak for trading their closer, Joel Hanrahan.
From the outside, it looks like the same old Pirates. You know, the ones that have had 20 straight losing seasons while trading every talented-but-getting-expensive player who’s come along other than Jason Kendall, who somehow got the biggest contract in Pirates history.
So when the Pirates traded their closer to the Boston Red Sox for a bunch of guys their fan base had never heard of, it felt like more of the same. It also doesn’t help that Hanrahan, with his outgoing personality and wild facial hair, is a fan favorite.
But, for a change, they’ve made a good baseball move.
The Pirates simply can’t afford a closer who makes up 10 percent of their payroll. They really can’t afford for any player to take up that portion of their payroll. If Andrew McCutchen did they could probably get away with it, but it certainly can’t be a closer whose command wavered last season. In fact, your old Pirates probably would have given Hanrahan an overpriced extension based on one strong and one mediocre season because he is a fan favorite.
But instead, they made an unpopular but wise move.
As far as we know now, the Pirates got first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel and major league reliever Mark Melancon. The trade isn’t yet complete but the remaining contents aren’t as relevant as the trade itself.
The Pirates needed to get something in return for Hanrahan, who was their most valuable trade asset this offseason, but as the closer market diminished, it began to look like the return for Hanrahan wouldn’t be a ton. While some called for the Pirates to keep him, it still made sense for the Pirates to move him, almost regardless of the return.
For the Pirates, it was about putting his salary to better use. Entering his final offseason of arbitration, Hanrahan is in line for a raise that will put his 2013 salary around $7 million. The Pirates’ payroll is usually around $70 million.
That $7 million needed to be dedicated toward improving other aspects of a ball club that is on the brink of being competitive but still has major holes.
You can question the Pirates’ thinking in reallocating that money in the direction of Russell Martin or Francisco Liriano, but the thinking was correct. They needed to upgrade at catcher and the starting rotation, and they have attempted to do that. You can argue whether Martin and Liriano were the right men for the job, but that’s a debate over execution, not philosophy.
It is likely that Jason Grilli, whom they re-signed this offseason for two seasons at the cost of one of Hanrahan’s, will fill in as the Pirates closer and should be able to replicate the majority of his production. Even without Hanrahan, the Pirates bullpen still had plenty of strong arms that should, at the very least, not be a weakness of the team.
Regardless of the success of the upgrades the Pirates have made, they had the right idea. For the Pirates, that’s a step in the right direction.