Earlier this week, WEEI Boston reported the Boston Red Sox were interested in Joel Hanrahan as a potential closer to replace Jonathan Papelbon who recently signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
If I'm the Pirates, I name my price and go for it.
Now, before you show up on my lawn with torches and pitchforks, consider this:
Joel Hanrahan is 30 years old, coming off the best season of his career, and plays the most erratic/inconsistent position in baseball. The closer position requires the endurance to throw in consecutive games while possessing the arm strength to throw in the mid-to-high 90's on a consistent basis. The risk of blowing out their arms, or flaming out, appears to be so high that it is almost expected.
From 2002-2004, Eric Gagne had the greatest string of saves in the history of baseball. Since then, Gagne has had major reconstructive elbow surgery and back surgery and hasn't been an effective closer since. Now, at age 35, Gagne appears to be somewhat of a forgotten player. He has simply "flamed out" and now is nothing more than a middle reliever, at best. The same can be said for Fransisco Rodriguez who, three years ago, had 62 saves with the Angels. The following season he signed with the Mets for three years $37 million and hasn't had more than 35 saves since.
With Hanrahan, it is worth a risk to take a look at some offers from other teams.
The truth about closers and their value lies within the book, "Moneyball". Author, Michael Lewis, states Billy Beane discovered that poor teams were easily able to find closers for cheap while rich teams overspent. During the Oakland's run of four straight playoff appearances, the Athletics used Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch and Keith Foulke as their closers. Ironically, Koch was used to get Foulke who was, eventually, released in free agency. When the Red Sox signed Foulke in 2004, the A's received their first round pick. While the Red Sox paid $3.5 million for the closer, the A's received a free pick to help rebuild their farm system.
Again, the rich teams overspend.
Another example, Rafael Soriano is signed a contract worth $35 million over three years with the Yankees to be the team's setup man. While the Yankees have Mariano Rivera as their closer, the Red Sox have no one. If they're willing to give up a solid prospect for Hanrahan, or overpay, it is worth the trade. The Pirates' best seasons are still 2-3 years down the road and, while they wait for Cole, Taillon, Heredia, Grossman, Marte, etc. to develop, what would be Hanrahan's role on a team that is not ready to compete? With all of the investments in young, projectable pitching over the last few years, it may be time to move a major league-ready piece for someone that can help the team when it matters most: the future.
Did the team make significant strides last season? It has been argued by several fans and media members that they did. I am still skeptical and so far it has been pretty clear that upper management is not going to spend money to bring in a big free agent. With the subtractions of Paul Maholm, Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, the Pirates are slightly downgraded from last year. While the winter meetings have yet to take place, it hardly seems possible that the Pirates will improve their big league club from last year. I ask: what is the worth of a closer on a losing team? The answer: not as valuable as a potential impact bat or starting pitcher.
But it has to be worth the price. The Pirates cannot afford to receive Andy Laroche type players in return for one of the best closers in the league. Given the Red Sox organizational depth -they were ranked second by Baseball America- the Pirates may strike gold with a solid prospect. On the other hand, the organization has constantly tried to shake the perpetual stigma that they are a cheap team that could not care less about winning. Moving Hanrahan would probably result in severe backlash by the fan base. While this may look like a tight rope for the organization to walk, fans of keeping Hanrahan will be happy to know the Pirates only have one bobblehead giveaway this year.