Analysis: Breaking down Joel Hanrahan trade & why Arguments from both sides are valid

Argument No. 1: Why this trade can be viewed as a good trade for the Pirates
At a time when Joel Hanrahan still had two years of control, Pirates GM Neal Huntington knows that he missed the best chance to get the highest value for Hanrahan last off-season when Hanrahan was coming off a tremendous 2011 campaign, posting a 1.83 ERA, 40 saves and a 61/16 strike to walk ratio.
A year later Huntington entered trade talks this off-season with a now
31 year old closer who had just 1 year of control and set to make $6-$7 million due to the arbitration process. To complicate matters for the Pirates, Hanrahan in 2012 had a drop off from 2011, posting a 2.72 ERA and giving up 8 homers (allowed just 1 homer in 2011) in 59 2/3 innings. Hanrahan’s homers per nine jumped from 0.13 to 1.21 and Hanrahan had his worst walk ratio since 2007 and he walked over 5 batters per nine innings in 2012. Overall, Hanrahan’s walks per nine innings ratio went from 2.10 in 2011 to 5.43 in 2012. Other increases in 2012 were his fly ball rate, which had gone from 30.1 in 2011 to 45.3 percent in 2012. All those factors involved, teams weren’t stomping at the door to trade for Hanrahan when over four weeks ago, Huntington made it known to teams he was pretty much determined to move the 31 year closer and his rising salary.
Disappointment to the Pirates, a bidding war among teams to trade for Hanrahan never panned out and the Pirates settled for a return of right-handed pitcher Mark Melancon outfielder/first baseman Jerry Sands, right-handed pitcher Stolmy Pimentel and infielder Ivan DeJesus Jr from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Hanrahan and infielder Brock Holt.
Evaluating the trade for 2013 Season: “While acknowledging that trading Joel Hanrahan was a difficult decision, we are pleased that the direct result will be the addition of three players who will very likely impact our major league club this season plus a pitcher who will add to our deep and talented pitching prospect base,” Huntington said at the time of the trade.
The key player of the deal for this coming season is reliever Mark Melancon, a 27 year old RHP who had a disaster of a 2012 season, posting a 6.20 ERA in 45 innings pitched. Returning to the National League and one of the Majors weakest divisions, the Pirates feel Melancon is a good bet to resemble the pitcher he was in Houston in 2011 when he had a 2.78 ERA in 74.1 innings, including 20 saves. What made Melancon so successful in 2011 was due to a new cutter that made up for a bad four seamer that haunted him in Boston this past-season. In 2011, Melancon was a strong groundball pitcher but moving to the AL in 2012, lefty hitters (.743 OPS allowed to lefties in career) exposed Melancon who doesn’t have a great changeup and has what scouts call a straight four seamer.
Melancon should rebound and be a viable middle reliever for the Pirates in returning to the NL but consensus among most scouts seems to be that Melancon doesn’t have the stuff (limited) to be a future closer for the Pirates, despite his success in Houston in 2011. The Pirates, though, see the intrigue of making Melancon a closer again and won’t close that door on that possibility as the opportunity could be there to trade Jason Grilli (due $4 million in 2014) by the trade deadline if Grilli is pitching well and the Pirates are out of contention. Melancon had some positive outings near end of 2012 season, when he posted a 0.90 ERA, 0.50 WHIP and 11.70 K’s/9 ratio in eight September appearances.
Sands a bench player or potential starter? There are a number of varying opinions on power hitting outfielder/1B Jerry Sands among evaluators. Some feel Sands is the typical Pirates type of hitter “too good for Triple-A” but not good enough to hit Major League pitching. Evaluators like Keith Law see Sands strictly as a bench player at the Major League level. The knock on Sands is that he doesn’t have great bat speed (has a loop in his swing) and struggles to hit off-speed pitching. Others though see a lot of intrigue with the raw power Sands has and see a potential impact player at the MLB level. “He’s one of those guys who could all of a sudden put up a big year if he gets the chance to play every day,” one AL GM told Nick Cafardo of Boston Globe. “Don’t think he’ll be that effective off someone’s bench,” the GM said. “He’s got to get into a rhythm at the plate and when he does, he can hit.”
Ivan Dejesus jr ceiling is nothing more than a utility infielder.
Upside/long shot Prospect: The Pirates got an intriguing pitching prospect in Stolmy Pimentel who flashes upside to become a solid big league pitcher but also has a number of concerns where some evaluators like Keith Law call him a “real longshot” prospect. Pimentel hits 95-96 mph on his fastball and is regarded as having an effective changeup but at this point in his development, the 22 year old has two effective pitches (when his fastball command is on) in his arsenal. Law indicates Pimentel’s lack of fastball command has really “held back his performance at Double-A.” Pimentel was once considered one of the Red Sox better pitching prospects but his stock had fallen and was not considered one of the Red Sox top-15 prospects, at the start or end of 2012 season.
Pimentel went 0-9 with a 9.12 ERA in 2011 at Double-A with just 30 strikeouts and 23 walks in 50.1 innings. Pimentel showed improvement in 2012 going 6-7 with a 4.59 ERA with 86 strikeouts and 42 walks in 115.2 innings but failed to make the jump to Triple-A. Overall, Pimentel struck out 6.7 batters and walked 3.3 per nine innings. While Pimentel made some strides in improving his delivery this past season, the Red Sox were willing to include him in this deal, not because they fully believe he can’t evolve into a big league pitcher but because a number of pitchers in their system have now surpassed Pimentel in the prospect poll, an area (starting pitching) that is now a strength in the Red Sox system, per Alex Speire.
Verdict: Those who like this deal from the Pirates standpoint will argue that having an All-Star closer is a luxury for a non-500 team and the deal benefits Pittsburgh from becoming more cost effective in the bullpen, spending around $3 million on their top two relievers in Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon, compared to the estimated $9-$9.5 million Grilli and Hanrahan were going to cost the team. Therefore, by trading Hanrahan the Pirates were able to reallocate more dollars to a more impact position, signing Francisco Liriano who might give the Pirates 160 innings compared to 70 from Hanrahan.
1. Argument is there that this was a money dump. The Pirates didn’t need to move Hanrahan. There’s no salary cap in baseball and if the Pirates would have held on to Hanrahan, Bob Nutting would still be living just fine.
2. A Joel Hanrahan – Jason Grilli tandem in the bullpen is a better closer/8th inning reliever combo than a Jason Grilli – Mark Melancon tandem. From a financial standpoint, the deal makes sense by becoming more cost effective in the bullpen but on putting a winner on the field in 2013, the Pirates are not better without Hanrahan
3. Jason Grilli is no sure thing to be a viable closer to replace Hanrahan. Grilli had outstanding strikeouts numbers in 2012 with 90 strikeouts, 22 walks in 58 innings and was second in the NL with 32 holds and he has the 25th-best WAR among relievers with 90-plus innings from 2011 to 2012. However, Grilli is 36 years old, has just 5 career saves and last season he allowed a fly ball/line drive rate of 68.5 percent on balls in play. Grilli’s career has rebounded due to increased fastball velocity into his mid-30’s and a more effective slider. The concern is he’s not a groundball pitcher and if the fastball (velocity slips) and control take a step back at his age, Grilli could falter as the closer.

4. If Francisco Liriano is the pitcher he was last season, therefore the gamble doesn’t pay off, the argument of getting 160 innings to Hanrahans 70 innings being much more meaningful can be thrown out the window.
5. The Pirates didn’t land one of the Red Sox top-10 prospects for an established All-Star Closer.
6. Hanrahan’s fastball velocity dropped from 95.8 compared to 97.0 in 2011 but it’s not the type of significant decline that shows Hanrahan is on the downside of his career. Other factors easily might have played a part in his decline such as going 10-11 days between save opportunities late in the season. Hanrahan remained a potential bounce back candidate (value could have risen by trade deadline) where based on the return the Pirates got from Red Sox, Pittsburgh could have went the route of throwing the financial ramifications out the window and put the best team on the field. 

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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