For the last year and a half, I’ve been talking about how the Pittsburgh Pirates should trade Joel Hanrahan. To sum up the reasoning, Hanrahan is a great reliever and a great closer, but the value of a closer is small, the trade value of closers is usually huge, and the Pirates would benefit more from the potential impact a Hanrahan trade could bring, rather than the value of having a great closer.
Hanrahan is arbitration eligible for the third time this off-season. Earlier today, MLBTR released their arbitration estimates, with Hanrahan making $6.9 M. We previously had Hanrahan at $7.5 M, basing his salary off Heath Bell, who Hanrahan has been similar to every step of the way through the arbitration process, and even through his career. Coincidentally, Bell was traded this weekend after a horrible year with Miami. Miami only paid $8 M of his remaining $21 M owed after the 34 year old had a season with declining numbers across the board, and they still got a marginal prospect in return.
Last year we saw a few closers crack eight figures per year, and with Hanrahan’s numbers, he could challenge for the same amount as a free agent. If we give Hanrahan a 2.0 WAR value, and use his projected $6.9 M salary, he has a trade value of $3.3 M. One thing that could help that salary is that the free agent class for closers is weak. Last year looked much stronger with Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, and Heath Bell at the top of the class. Overall the results were disappointing, yet for some reason MLB teams still pay big dollars for closers.
This year the closer market looks weak. Taking the list from MLBTR.
Grant Balfour (35) – $4.5MM club option with a $350K buyout
Jonathan Broxton (29)
Matt Capps (29) – $6MM club option with a $250K buyout
Brandon League (30)
Ryan Madson (32) - $11MM mutual option with a $2.5MM buyout
Brett Myers (32) – $10MM vesting option with a $3MM buyout
Mariano Rivera (43)
Fernando Rodney (36) - $2.5MM club option with a $250K buyout
Joakim Soria (29) – $8MM club option with a $750K buyout
Jose Valverde (35)
Balfour had a great season as a closer in Oakland, but might not hit free agency. Valverde regressed some, with his ERA going up, and his strikeout rate dropping steadily over the last few years. Broxton’s good year could get teams back on his bandwagon as a closing candidate. Matt Capps didn’t have a great year. Brandon League struggled with Seattle, but came around at the end of the year with the Dodgers. Brett Myers had good numbers, but doesn’t have a lot of closer experience, which tends to be important for teams. Mariano Rivera isn’t going anywhere. The Rays aren’t letting Fernando Rodney walk when they could have him for $2.5 M. Joakim Soria would normally highlight the class, but he had a down year. And Ryan Madson will likely re-enter the free agent market coming off Tommy John surgery.
In short, the free agent market will probably include a declining Valverde (unless Detroit re-signs him), Soria and Madson at low values, and uncertain options like Capps, League, Myers, and Broxton. That’s not exactly a strong group, and if teams are looking for a closer, a guy like Hanrahan looks very valuable.
I don’t think the Pirates could get a top 100 prospect for Hanrahan. They probably won’t get a multi-player return like Oakland got last year for Andrew Bailey. But I think they could get that one main piece, probably a B-level prospect. In comparison to the Bailey deal, that would be someone like Josh Reddick, who really turned out well this year with Oakland.
They missed their chance to get a huge return for Hanrahan. It’s one of the disappointing things about the team “contending” in the first half in each of the last two years. They could have gotten a bigger return either year, but they can’t trade their closer when they look like contenders at the deadline. The 2011 group should have never been considered contenders. The 2012 group was better, but played over their heads for two months and were on an unreal pace by the end of July. It would have been easier to make the deal in 2011, which was a year where top set up men were fetching top 50 prospects and more.
I still feel Hanrahan should be dealt this off-season. The Pirates shouldn’t be paying that much money to a closer. They could get a potential everyday player who could provide more value than a top closer. On top of that, they could use the savings for other additions this off-season. It’s never been the most popular idea to deal Hanrahan. A lot of a closer’s perceived value comes with the comfort factor. Two years ago no one trusted Hanrahan in the closer’s role because he wasn’t trusted and wasn’t proven. Now people don’t want to deal him away because he’s “established”, as if no other pitcher could ever pitch in the ninth inning, even though the exact same doubts were cast on Hanrahan, and every other closer in history before they put together a few saves. It’s definitely a comfort having a good closer to shut down the game, but you can find a replacement for Hanrahan, and finding a replacement is a lot easier than finding the type of player you could get by dealing Hanrahan.
Links and Notes
**Over the weekend I added a new comment system, sort of. Previously we used Disqus, which I loved. However, Disqus recently released their new version, Disqus 2012. The release actually downgraded a few features that I liked about the software. One of the downgrades allowed for people to post with unregistered accounts, which opened the site up to a lot of spamming, trolling, and users impersonating other users.
At this time of year I’m trying to put the Prospect Guide together, which is a big part of what allows me to run this site full time, and also allows for added coverage throughout the year. So the last thing I have time for right now is spending time moderating comments from people acting like idiots, mostly for the sole reason that they disagree with my opinion on a game, or just don’t like me. I don’t care if you disagree with what I say. Not everyone does. I was pleased to see that John Lease signed up for the comments today. He posts here everyday, and never agrees with me, but I’m glad he reads and adds his take to the discussions. I also don’t care if you don’t like me. Not everyone will. But realize that you’re hurting my livelihood by trolling the site. I was planning on getting a ton of work done with the Prospect Guide on Saturday. Instead I spent the entire day adding a new comment system to the site. Again, that book is a huge factor for this site. It’s impossible to run this site full time without it, and I’m out of a full time job without that book. So from one person to a bunch of anonymous people (or maybe just one), if you’re here to talk baseball, you’re welcome to. If you’re here to deliberately cause problems, there are other places you can go.
The new comment system requires you to register an account with the site with a verified e-mail address. From there, your initial comments have to be approved. Once you have a comment approved, you’re good to go. You can also connect with Facebook, Twitter, and your Google accounts. If anyone has any suggestions for upgrades to the comment section, let me know. I’m using WordPress comments, which are very customizable. So if there’s a feature you’re looking for, I’ll see if there’s a plugin that makes that feature available.
**Pat at WHYGAVS has a good look at the minor league system, and questions whether it is good enough.