Trading Hanrahan: Not your typical Pirates

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.

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  1. Bill McKinley said...

    Couldn’t agree more with the Pirates’ decision to trade Hanrahan.
    Will choose to disagree that they made this trade if, as reported, they could have acquired Rick Porcello from the Tigers instead.
    He is a pitcher who needs a stronger infield defense behind him and one who might blossom into a strong #2 starter.

  2. bucdaddy said...

    The position of “closer” simply doesn’t seem to lend itself to durability or sustainability, for whatever reason. Hanrahan, with one very good and one OK season in the role, is already fifth on the Pirates’ all-time saves list, with 82. My guess is that for most teams, anybody who had two seasons like Hanrahan’s would also make the top 10. They seem to have a very flash-in-the-pan quality—every season a half dozen guys nobody knows inherit the job and do just fine at it … for one season—and that unless you really think you’ve stumbled onto a Mariano Rivera, you’re better off dealing guys like Hammer a year too soon, rather than a year to late, to somebody who still thinks having a “name” closer at a high price is a priority, for some reason.

    For the record, the Pirates’ all-time saves leaders:

    1. Face, 188
    2. Tekulve 158
    3. Mike Williams (yes, Mike Williams) 140
    4. Giusti, 133
    5. Hammer, 82
    6. Mesa, 70
    7. Capps, 67
    8. Belinda, 61
    9. I forget
    No. 10 is Bill Landrum

    The Pirates let Capps walk when he started to get too expensive, and there was a firestorm (mainly because they got nothing for him, but still …) until they traded for some no-name from Washington who turned out to be much better.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  3. Aaron James said...

    Bill – I would have loved Porcello, but they tried to get him and got shut down. Detroit seems content on using internal candidates to fill the hole. So I’d rather get a group of near-MLB ready prospects than give up more than its worth to get Porcello.

  4. Andy said...

    This now makes Garret Jones expendable.  Look for them to make a trade, maybe for a first baseman or ss.  We have depth in the OF to make a move.  Also look for the 7 million to be used to bring in a FA.

  5. bucdaddy said...

    The $7 mil already was used to bring in an FA—Liriano.

    I wouldn’t call Jones “expendable,” but it would have to be a pretty good return to deal him. There is, certainly, a logjam in the outfield now, and at first base.

  6. long suffering bucs fan said...

    Are you guys smoking crack? In order for a trade to be a trade you have to get something back. Sands is a stiff ( ask dodgers fans) , the 2 pitchers are proven busts and I’m not gonna even mention an ex major leaguers kid who has mustered up a 205 average in the minors in 8 yrs. Salary dump as always..pirates need new ownership 20 losing yrs and counting ..make it 21. Oh we also tossed in Brock Holt.. a young player with at least a decent AVG/OBP…who I wouldn’t have traded straight up for ANY of the returned players. Its sickening.

  7. Aaron Leight said...

    Couldn’t agree more.  The increase in walks certainly scared me, and, while I have little doubt he’d have continued to be a solid closer, the Buccos simply have bigger needs. Sands may prove to be a Quad-a player, but he’s shown promising attributes at the highest level of the minors. Melancon is just a year removed from closing in this division, and I’ve heard rumors that the deal also includes shortstop Jose Iglesias – who’d fill a major hole in the starting offense. At the end of the day, we traded an expensive, declining closer who would have been gone at the deadline anyway, but may have had 3 months to lower his image from all-star to question mark.

  8. HoratioSky said...

    Aaron, please re-post this paragraph to every ‘yinzer’ who links this front office with the prior ones.  It is to-the-point and necessary.

    Well said.

  9. long suffering bucs fan said...

    Lets see this front office hasn’t hit a .500 record yet in 5 seasons. Wasted a 1st round pick last year for someone they weren’t going to pay. Now trade an all star reliver for 4 bags of beaten up balls. I’ll ck back here at midseason when Hanrahan has 20-25 saves and the Pirates “incomers” have produced nothing. Further, the Sox will re-sign Hanrahan.. he’s only 31..while our great management replaces him with Grilli a 36 yr old who has never closed. Brilliant.

  10. Aaron James said...

    Give me a break… if you can’t see the difference in the last 5 years compared to the prior 15, then you’re just being pessimistic. They are still a small market team – they will never change that – but confusing their recent maneuvers for those of the past (Jason Bay, Aramis Ramirez, Jason Schmidt, etc) is just being ignorant. Over Huntington’s reign, they have spent more in the MLB draft than any team in baseball, been extremely active in the international market, transformed the state of our farm system, signed the best player to come to this city in decades through his age 31 season and nearly doubled the payroll. Instead of shying away from the obvious, but expensive, draft picks (like taking Moskos over Wieters) they have taken Alvarez, Taillon, Bell, Cole and even Appel. Are they perfect? Far from it – but they haven’t been selling off their all-stars like the old days and selling off a decling closer who was set to make 10% of the total payroll doesn’t change that. You’d be able to pick out a handful of bad moves a GM made with any GM in the game – but the overall effort speaks much louder.

  11. Bill McKinley said...

    I’m not a Pirates fan but I sense you have at least two long suffering fans who are, one passionately optimistic and one definitely pessimistic and jaded.

    Hanrahan is 3rd year arbitration eligible this year and a FA next year. It made sense to trade him.

    I thought they could have gotten more but Melancon is following a career path not dissimilar to Hanrahan and could easily work into the closer role. Should that happen, the Pirates likely “win” this trade.

    Happy holidays.

  12. Aaron James said...

    You’re quick to blame current management, but refuse to see the big picture. 5 years is nothing in baseball and they’ve made a massive amount of progress. Huntington started with a heap of terrible contacts, a bare minor league system and an ultra stingy owner. This deal was not one with only 2013 in mind, so yes at midseason it may not be an instant cure all. The Pirates aren’t in a position to think now, now, now like the Blue Jays or even Royals. We’re also not bad enough to think strictly in the future. So we get rid of a couple players who make too much for what they contribute, gain some young controllable guys and sprinkle in some vets to fill the biggest holes (Liriano, Martin, etc).

    To write off all of the progress we’ve made just because we haven’t hit .500 yet is silly. 85% of the talent he’s brought in is still in the high levels of the minors. Cole, Taillon, Heredia, etc haven’t even been up yet and yet we still have late season 1st place runs each of the last two years. We might not have all the pieces to maintain that level of play for an entire season, but that won’t always be the case. Soon enough the young guys we’ve drafted (Marte, Cole, Taillon, Bell, Hanson) , signed internationally (Polanco, Heredia)  and traded for (Snider, Sands, Melancon) will make an impact and will trigger the signing of even more free agents to go along with the Liriano, Wandy, Burnett, Martin type deals we’ve already handed out. All these guys along with having McCutchen in his prime – and Walker and Alvarez in theirs, and other role players – will add to what success we’ve already seen.

    If you can’t see the difference between what we’re doing now and what we did before when we’d sell off everyone midseason and only sign guys like Matt Lawton, Joe Randa and Kenny Lofton, then you’re blind as well as ignorant.

  13. Aaron James said...

    I don’t want my extreme opposition to the cry baby making it seem like I think the buccos are going to make a run for the pennant. The offense is still mediocre at best and the pitching would need a few career years to be considered anything above average. But I just feel like for a small market club who was in such shambles just 6 short years ago, we’ve made up a lot of ground. And we’ve done it by making smart baseball decisions compared to strictly smart business ones. I’m excited by the promise of a brighter tomorrow, but I’m not blinded by the truth like the normal bright eyed optimist. But if the argument is “is this the same old buccos” I’m as opposed as can be. It’s easy to get down on them after 20 losing seasons. And it’s certainly not easy to see the improvements unless you’re extremely familiar with the game. But to anyone who looks closely at the last 5 years and then compares the decision making and strategies to the early 2000’s and prior – its impossible to draw any correlation between the two. I mean seriously, what GM wouldn’t be commended for taking a team from 57 wins to 72 to 79 in just 3 years? All while stacking the minors with big money 1st round picks and being very active in the international market. It might not be the worst to 1st that the Rays accomplished, but it’s something to be excited about.

  14. long suffering bucs fan said...

    I love how people assume things on the internet. Let me tell you this – I am old enough to have seen the bucs play in Forbes Field. I attended the first game at 3 rivers and all home ws games in 71 & 79. I have followed the game closely for years..not to mention even closer since the rise of fantasy- I have been in an NL only roto league for over 10 years. That said- I am entitled to say same old bucs. When they actually win more than they lose let me know. Have they made improvements in 5 yrs? Yes. Is the owner still incredibly stingy? Yes. But all you “rose colored glasses bucs fans” (love to call names brilliant above) take them off. You are still believing in “potential”. Potential is worth nothing results are. If you are in business you understand this. The Pirates have been selling potential for years. You can buy it if you want to. I’m not. None of those minor leaguers has set the world on fire.. in the minors. Do they have potential? Yes. If you followed baseball you would know Sands is a total stiff who was given multiple opportunitys to start in LA and failed miserably. You do realize he is the same age as Jay Bruce. Dejesus? Seriously? Melancon is stil a HUGE ? mark…he did so well with the sox he spent most of the year in the minors. Stolmy Pinetel … has been an overhyped bust & hasn’t proven he can even last in the minors. So we got nothing for a 31 yr old all star reliever. If he has another 40 plus save season… then you RE-SIGN him. He probably has 5-6 good yrs left. & now we replace him with a 36 yr old who has never closed… how anyone with with baseball and not $$$ sense thinks this was a good deal for the bucs simply hasn’t a clue.

  15. Aaron James said...

    I’d say increasing your win total from 57 to 79 and spending time the majority of the season above .500 is a little more than just gaining some potential, but your point isn’t lost on me. The results aren’t there yet and I get that. I just look at where we were before and compare it to now and I like the trends I’m seeing compared to past years. Oh and resigning McCutchen through his prime is something the “same old buccos” would have gawked at. We’d have kept him while he were cheap and then sent him to Texas for Mike Olt and a bag of cheetos.

    As for the trade, you have me a bit confused. I understand your harsh criticism of who we got, and most of it is warranted. But thinking we’ll not only pay $7M for a closer this year, but then offering him a 20-30M contract if he happens to pit together another solid year sounds nothing like the buccos – new or old. If you’ve been watching baseball as long as you say you have, you’d know that relief pitchers go up and down about as often as Lindsay Lohan. Hammer has been terrific, but the signs have already been in full swing to show he’s not going to stay this good for long. Hell, the reason he didn’t draw as much interest this offseason as he did last is because of just that. We were able to bring back Grilli (which most thought we couldn’t) for half the price, and while he’s not a lock himself at his age, he’s as much as we need to devote to the position at this point in time. Melancon is certainly a question mark as you said, but he’s one brutal season in the AL East (with a very small sample size at that) from pitching 70+ innings with an era under 3 and 20 saves to boot.

    The trade also freed us up to get Liriano. I’d take a #3 starter for 7M over a closer anyday. Plus I think the move to a lefty-friendly PNC and out of the AL will be beneficial to him. He’s not a lock, but when you’re a small market team looking for a 3rd starter, finding a lock is impossible. I’d have loved if we kept Karstens – I disagree full heartedly with allowing him to walk, but with him gone I’d much rather have Liriano, Melancon and 2 major league ready prospects over a declining closer. Sands is a risk of being a quad-A guy, but on a team who needs run producers he’s a nice piece to have. Again, I like the deal – I don’t love it – but in today’s game I think it’s a mistake to spend 10% of your payroll on a relief pitcher. Especially when he has one year left and then he’s gone for nothing.

  16. Leo Walter said...

    As a long time Pirate fan,while not as optimistic,or quite as forgiving of the current Management team as Aaron,I do have to say I get sick and tired of seeing the same old,same old mis-informed criticisms from people like the ” long suffering bucs fan ” (..wah !) It reminds me of reading the Pittsburgh newspaper blogs,where the personal grudges and poorly informed so called ” fans ” spout their never ending ideas of who they should trade or spend for,when in reality no GM in baseball would ever make some of the deals they bring up.Maybe now that the Steelers have shown their weaknesses,these people will go off on Ben Roethlisberger,or his offensve co-ordinator.

  17. Aaron James said...

    Hehe. Glad you liked the Lohan line; I was pretty proud of it when it came to me, so I’m glad to see it wasn’t lost on everyone else. To answer your question, I can only assume that keeping the trio of Liriano, Karstens and Hammer would have proved too costly – especially when we were only able to get the former by knowing the latter was on his way out. We’re approaching (and maybe even eclipsed by now) the $70M mark, which for a team who has consistently spent in the 40-50M range, is a pretty significant increase in its own right. We HAD to address the starting rotation and catcher, which I believe we did in adding Wandy last year and Frankie this offseason. I can’t see why we wouldn’t spend the $4M on Karstens, though. That seems like a blunder, unless there’s something about his recent injuries that we don’t know.

    And the last point I want to address is everyone’s concern with us going “all in to win”. If all current management cared about was putting together one or two years of contention before falling back into the depths on baseball hell again, I’d be on board with most of the fanbase in terms of decision making. All I’ve heard from fans the past two mid-season/trade deadlines is that we need to go out and get the rental players who make us better right now, but who will be gone by the start of next year. Last season it was Carlos Quentin and Shane Victorino. If I thought the buccos were close enough to a championship I’d be right there with you – just like your question as to why not spend an extra $11M if it makes us more competitive for one more year. But I think Huntington is smart enough to know that while we can be somewhat competitive in a weaker division, we’re not quite to the “all-in” point. Our offense struggled mightily for the beginning and end 2 months of the season. As mentioned before, the majority of work Neil has done is still in the higher level of the minors. So I could see it happening soon, maybe 2014 or ‘15, when we decide to give up some of our future for some help “right now”. But there’s no sense in giving up 3 top prospects to get 3 months of a rental player, when most of what you’ve worked for is 2 years away. I think, and hope, he’s setting us up to be more competitive, more often by resisting temptation (and fan’s urging) to throw it all in as the Blue Jays and Royals have recently done. We’ll see how it pans out, but all of his moves have made 2014 and 2015 look very, very promising. Which is more than I can say for a darn thing Littlefield did in his tenure as GM.

  18. Leo Walter said...

    LSBF : Yes,I do have the ‘60 DVD,and by the way,I can see now why Mickey cried the whole way back to NYC after that loss. The Pirates had 4 genuine MLB position players on the field that day,while the entire Yankee lineup was the real deal.And,that is some really cool old material you have there ! Now,back to your current points. Yes,I am pretty old,and sometimes it is difficult to keep the old school thought processees from taking over. However,I see about 65-70 AA games a season in addition to Spring Training and Buc’s games,so it isn’t difficult to keep current. While not a fan of NH’s,I do have to say that the entire farm system is so head and shoulders ahead of where it was in the late ‘90’s to the mid 2000’s,that it is hard for me to accept some of the criticisms I see regarding the current Front Office. I can tell you this though : there is not one intelligent GM in the Major Leagues who is going to give up a starting position player or starting pitcher for any reliever straight up. Particularly one like Hanrahan,who is going to make $ 7 million and is in the last year of his contract.

  19. Aaron James said...

    Exactly, Leo. Hammer was a fan favorite here – and deservedly so. But he’s not a highly valuable trade piece when he has only 1 year left, which is estimated to be worth around $7M. He’s already shown decline in both statistics and conditioning. And the biggest factor in his mediocre value is that he’s a RELIEF pitcher! Aside from MAYBE half a dozen guys in the league, no relief pitcher is going to garner a large return. And the ones who do will likely be either young and controllable, or so highly elite that they wouldn’t be traded (ie Mariano). I’d love to keep Hanrahan, but if we can get a combo of mediocre, unproven specs, plus a fairly promising reliever and a savings of 10% of our total salary I don’t see how anyone could disagree with the move. I think fans want to get a return that equals hammer’s 2011 season and that’ll just never happen.

  20. Aaron James said...

    Thinking that we expect and/or need Sands to hit 30+MLB HR this year for this deal to pay off is the exact thinking that impairs Buccos fans from seeing the reality of the deal. I’d be happy if he contributed at all. He’s a guy who’s proven himself at the minor league level, but hadn’t put it altogether in the majors yet. Anyone expecting him to be an all star is kidding themselves.

    In deals where you trade an expensive guy of his value, with impending free agency, you’re looking for 2 things: relief from the salary and the possibility of gaining a single piece that may contribute at the major league level at some point in their contract. Melancon and Sands offer the hope, while the salary relief has already beefed up our rotation. None of the 4 players need to be productive immediately to make this a positive move. But I personally think Melancon could become a productive member of the bullpen – people are placing wayyy too much emphasis on 21 innings of playing for the train wreck that is Bobby Valentine – while Sands could prove to be Gaby Sanchez-like, with potential to be better or worse. He’s a wildcard. He could make this deal look like a no brainer in 2 years, or he could be another Dallas McPherson, minus some of the hype. Either way, he’s worth taking the chance on when you’ve already gotten 3 other players and $7M in addition to his potential.

    Ah, there’s that word… potential. Brought up earlier in a more negative light, I think it’s something that’s been missing from this club for a long time. Not only have we struggled through years of having our team represented by the Joe Randa’s – but we also didn’t have much hope for a brighter future. Nowadays we have a legitimate superstar, who we’ve locked up through the best years of career. Not only that, but we’ve developed talent around him, while spending our high draft picks on the no-brainer selections we were afraid of for so long. As those guys trickle up from the minors, we spend more and more on free agents we never would have targeted a decade ago. Imagine once Cole, Taillon and Heredia are up and Marte and Snider have had two+ years in the pros – we’d be much more willing to trade a few prospects at the deadline to improve whatever our weakness is at the time. Do I think we’re a year from transforming into the Yankees or Rangers? No, of course not. Could a couple failed prospects derail our fragile hope of a brighter tomorrow? Sure, it could. But am I extremely more hopeful after the last few years compared to the prior 15? You’re damn right, and you’re kidding yourself if you aren’t.

  21. Leo Walter said...

    Aaron,I couldn’t agree with you more on most of the points you have mentioned.One aspect of Hanny’s performance that has been neglected is the ” eye test “. From about the beginning of July on,he wasn’t passing my eye test at all ! I saw so many guys swinging at sliders that were nowhere the strike zone ( like Billy Butler in the All Star Game ) that I thought there was going to be trouble ahead. Then when his fastball dropped 2 to 3 MPH, I thought he was headed for problems. I was sorry that they were caught in the position at the deadline that they couldn’t trade him then. But I understood the PR problem they would have had. Can you imagine how the citizens and dictators of Smizikstan and AzerDejan would have re-acted to them trading him then ? Ha ! As far as Sands is concerned,maybe he will ” get it ” a little quicker than Brandon Moss has.Or,he could be Andy LaRoche. That is one of the mysteries of professional baseball that NOBODY has figured out.

  22. Leo Walter said...

    LSBF : I promise this is my last word on the Hanrahan deal. Actually,it is a partial quote from MLB Rumors regarding the Bo Sox trade of Josh Reddick to the A’s for Andrew Baily exactly one year ago.” Even if Bailey gets healthy and returns to form, a good closer doesn’t have the value of a good (and controllable through 2016) everyday outfielder, so I’d say Oakland has won this trade already.” If more Pirate ” fans “and Sports Reporters would pay attention to this type of information,they might understand better what goes on in MLB today. would

  23. long suffering bucs fan said...

    Aaron you make many valid points. I would LOVE to be proven wrong. I do have to say this—your line about Lohan above was pure gold.. I seriously busted a gut on that one. Thank you for a polite well reasoned response. But if ownership is really serious about winning what is wrong with Liriano, Karstens and Hanrahan for this year and see what happens. With those three I feel the quest for .500 would at least happen. Letting the owner off with well we can’t afford all these guys ( and I’m not talking arod type contracts here) is letting the owner off to easy. If the bucs actually won..they would sell a lot more tickets.

  24. Leo Walter said...

    long suffering bucs fan : Good for you ! I am glad to hear that you actually saw the Bucs play in Forbes Field. But,if you can tell me that you saw them before I saw Ralph Kiner,the O’Brian Twins, Vic Janowiscz,and Jackie Robinson from the Dodgers,you get the Longevity Prize.If you can also tell me that you have been watching their Minor League Operations as much or more than I have,once again,congrats. But if you can’t,you probably don’t know quite as much as you think you do about how Major League Orginizations are run today. Thinking you can keep piling on B & C prospects in some fantasy deal with a $ 7 million closer who will be a FA after this season and it is going to get the Bucs a prime SS prospect is like standing on the corner waiting for Kate Upton to come looking for you. Ain’t happening !

  25. long suffering bucs fan said...

    Wow Leo—you’re reaaaaaaallyyy old!!!! LOL…
    Does it count if I have baseball cards of all of the above?? They were way before my time ( and I feel old). I hear what your saying.. I still think we could have gotten a better return—I’d have taken one proven starting major leaguer straight up. On another note I was just watching game 7 of the 1960 series—if you don’t have the dvd I highly recommend it. BTW if you wanna go really old school I am familiar with Babe Adams, Kiki Cuyler,Wilbur Cooper,Clyde Barhardt…. ( I actually have a Babe Adams autograph). Lastly I hope I am proven wrong and Sands hits 30 homers this year ( but I’m not holding my breath)

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