Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun (via MLBTR) had an update yesterday on the Toronto Blue Jays’ pursuit of a closer. Elliot says that the Blue Jays have been “shocked” by the asking prices of free agent closers this off-season. Alex Anthopoulos said that the club’s greatest surplus was prospects, which Elliot took to mean that trading for a closer would be Toronto’s best option.
We saw Jonathan Papelbon sign a four year, $50 M contract with the Philadelphia Phillies last week, an amount that equals $6.25 M per win above replacement, based on Papelbon’s 2011 WAR. Ryan Madson was rumored to be close to a four year, $44 M deal with the Phillies prior to their deal with Papelbon. Madson’s deal would have been worth $5 M per WAR, based on his 2011 numbers.
I’ve mentioned many times that I feel the Pittsburgh Pirates should capitalize on the high values given to closers and trade Joel Hanrahan. I reiterated that thought last week when Madson was rumored to be signing with the Phillies. To get an idea of why a Hanrahan trade would be a smart move, let’s look at his trade value.
NOTE: The purpose is to see the values of these players, using projected values (calculated as [(WAR*$6 M) - Salary] in this case) and Victor Wang’s research on prospect values.
Here is Hanrahan’s trade value:
Explanation: I’m basing his salary in his final two years of arbitration off of Heath Bell’s salary. His WAR is based on his 2011 season numbers. If the draft compensation system stays in place, Hanrahan would qualify as a Type A free agent. I left that out of the above chart, but you could add $2.5 M per draft pick to the above total, depending on how many compensation picks Type A free agents will receive under the new CBA.
What He’s Worth: A $20.8 M value is just shy of a top 26-50 hitter ($23.4 M). It definitely covers a top 50 pitching prospect ($15.9 M), a top 51-75 hitter ($14.2 M), or a top 76-100 hitter ($12.5 M). Add in a grade B pitcher ($7.3 M) or a grade B hitter ($5.5 M) and Hanrahan could bring back two top prospects in a trade. For those that are wondering, if the Pirates would have traded Hanrahan on July 31st, 2011, he would have had an additional $5.3 M in value, which is another grade B hitter added to the current trade value.
Analysis: As someone who has been calling for a Hanrahan trade since June, I would make this deal. I’d even make the deal if it was just straight up for a top 50 pitching prospect or a 51-75 hitting prospect. I don’t believe that relievers are this difficult to find. Just look at Hanrahan. The Pirates traded Sean Burnett to get Hanrahan as part of the Lastings Milledge for Nyjer Morgan swap. The Burnett/Hanrahan swap was viewed as a swap to even out the difference between Morgan and Milledge, with Milledge being seen as the better player at the time. A year later and Hanrahan was back to being a top reliever. Two years later, Hanrahan was a top closer.
With the makeup of the current team, a starting pitcher or a starting fielder would have a bigger impact than a strong closer. I’ll take the situation where the team is in position to win more often, rather than trying to hold on to as many wins as possible with a weaker team. For all we know, someone like Jose Veras, Chris Resop, Evan Meek, Chris Leroux, or even Bryan Morris could step up as the next top closer. And if you have doubts about any of those players, just keep in mind that they’re probably the same doubts that surrounded Hanrahan throughout his career, even heading in to the 2011 season.
Looking specifically at Toronto, we can rule out Brett Lawrie, Travis d’Arnaud, and Anthony Gose. All three ranked in Baseball America’s mid-season top 50, and as shown above, a 26-50 hitting prospect (d’Arnaud and Gose) would be an over-payment for Hanrahan. The exception is if Hanrahan also gets value for compensation picks. Lawrie was a projected top ten prospect ($36.5 M), and doesn’t have prospect eligibility anymore, so he’s out of the picture no matter what. Compensation picks would put d’Arnaud and Gose within range. Outside of those three, anyone else in the Toronto system would seem fair value in a multi-player trade.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that Toronto needs a second baseman. Elliot mentioned in his article that Brandon Phillips is available. I would think that Toronto would prefer to use their top prospects on a second baseman before turning to their closer needs, although they’ve got enough prospects to make a deal for each position.
Boston is another team looking for closers, although they might be more open to paying the top free agent prices that Toronto seems to be avoiding. If Boston looked to the trade market, Anthony Ranaudo would be fair value. He was the number 37 prospect in Baseball America’s mid-season top 50. Boston matches up well with the Pirates’ needs, specifically with their shortstops. However, they are in a much better situation to go the free agent route and save their prospects.
Hanrahan won’t be the only closer on the trade market. Andrew Bailey and Carlos Marmol are two names that have been mentioned elsewhere as possible trade candidates. I don’t think Toronto will be the only team potentially looking to the trade market for a cheaper bullpen option, so the Pirates shouldn’t be hurt by other options on the market.