First Pitch: An Incomplete Observation on an Incomplete Trade
For some reason, the Pirates can’t make a move involving a relief pitcher without the deal dragging on unnecessarily for days. We first heard that Jason Grilli had signed on the final day of the winter meetings. Then we heard he didn’t sign yet. Then he did. Then he didn’t. Then a week later he signed for real.
Now we’ve got a Joel Hanrahan trade. The floodgate of rumors opened today, and quickly we learned that Joel Hanrahan was being traded to the Boston Red Sox, with Jerry Sands and Stolmy Pimentel coming back to the Pirates. After that we learned that the deal wasn’t done, and that three more players were involved — one from Pittsburgh and two from Boston. And that’s where we’re at right now.
It’s impossible to evaluate a deal that isn’t complete. It kind of comes across with a Bobby Hill type “Let’s wait until we see who the PTBNL is” vibe when you say this, but we really need to see the final three players in this deal. Right now all we can do is look at the players who are involved, and give an incomplete evaluation. I won’t even give this a final grade or draw any conclusions. Instead, I’ll just give some thoughts on each aspect of the deal.
On Trading Joel Hanrahan…
I’ve been calling for the Pirates to deal Hanrahan since he first had success as a closer in 2011. I’ve been open to the ideal of dealing closers for any strong return since I realized how over-rated closers were, and how volatile relievers were. A trade involving Hanrahan might be considered a salary dump, and it might be considered that due to speculation that the Pirates wouldn’t want to pay that much for a reliever. That’s not a bad thing.
Relievers are unpredictable. Just look at Hanrahan. He struggled last year, and was lucky that he limited the damage while walking over five per nine innings. He stranded almost 90% of batters and had a .225 BABIP. Both were extremely lucky. Based on his career numbers, he should have had a much higher BABIP (which reduced the impact of his walks) and he should have had a lower strand rate (which combined with more hits allowed can be bad).
Hanrahan is a great reliever and a great closer. There’s a reason why Boston wants him. But the thing about closers is that they can go from being valuable relievers to having no value at all in no time. Just look at Hanrahan. He had a lot of value following the 2008 season. He started off as Washington’s closer in 2009. After some early struggles, and two demotions from the position, he was traded to the Pirates. And his value at the time? He was swapped for Sean Burnett, in a swap that was supposed to balance the Nyjer Morgan/Lastings Milledge swap in Washington’s favor. Three and a half years later and Hanrahan looks like the best player in that deal. At the time he was considered the fourth best.
He’s not immune from that happening again. Very few closers become Mariano Rivera, dominating for years. Most have a few years where they dominate, then they fall off the radar. That makes Hanrahan a risk. A team like Boston can afford that risk. If they waste $7 M on a reliever who happens to have a down year, it doesn’t really hurt them at all. They’ll probably just go get another expensive reliever (which is kind of what they’re doing right now with Hanrahan). If the Pirates see Hanrahan struggle, that’s 10% of their payroll down the drain. The value of a closer isn’t big enough to risk 10% of your payroll.
The best time to deal Hanrahan would have been last year at this time. I understand that the Pirates couldn’t make a deal during the last two seasons because of their position in the standings during each trade deadline. But there was nothing stopping them from dealing Hanrahan last off-season, when teams were paying a lot for closers. The result is that his value is lower now. You’re not getting a top prospect, since he has one year remaining and that year comes at an expected $7 M. It does seem that his return so far is higher than the trade value I projected a few weeks ago, but the trade is still incomplete. So let’s look at the other parts of the deal so far.
On Jerry Sands…
I was in New York today, celebrating an early Christmas with my family. Side note, if you get the chance I highly recommend Spider-Man on Broadway. I’m a huge Spider-Man fan, and it did have some stuff that felt more like the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man and not the comic book Spider-Man. There was some stuff in there that probably had to be added to make it like a musical. But the backgrounds and settings were fantastic, and watching Spider-Man and the Green Goblin soaring all over the theatre and fighting over everyone’s heads was incredible. Even if you’re not a huge Spider-Man fan, it was enjoyable (as I confirmed with the non-comic fans in my group).
Starting a review on the center piece of the deal with one paragraph about a Broadway musical doesn’t say much about the return. That’s mostly because my knowledge of Sands was limited. I remembered him as part of the mega-deal between Boston and Los Angeles over the summer. Sands went to Boston in the deal that sent Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers. While doing some research today I noticed his power numbers, which were definitely intriguing.
Sands is far from a guarantee to have success in the majors. He’s not a top prospect, and technically isn’t prospect eligible. But he is intriguing. He looks similar to Josh Reddick last year. Sands has better numbers in the minors, and both were the same age at the time of their deal (Reddick was 25 in 2012, Sands will be 25 in 2013). The question here is: will Sands be more like Reddick, or will he be the next Lastings Milledge/Andy LaRoche type return? He’s an interesting guy, and considering Hanrahan’s lack of value, he’s the type of guy, value-wise, I’d expect as the center piece in any deal.
On the Other Shoe…
Aside from the issues with deals for relievers dragging on, another trend this off-season seems to be that we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. In this case, the Pirates are acquiring Sands, who should be in the majors in 2013. They’ve got a crowded outfield with Starling Marte, Travis Snider, Jose Tabata, and Alex Presley. They’ve got a crowded first base spot with Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez as the projected starters, and Clint Robinson in Triple-A. Adding Sands to the outfield would cut into time from Marte or Snider. There wouldn’t be room to add him to the first base mix without a deal.
It seems that the other shoe in this case would be a Garrett Jones trade. Adding another potential power bat to the lineup could free the Pirates up to deal Jones. I’ve mentioned a few times this off-season that this might not be a bad plan. Jones is coming off a career year and his value probably won’t stay this high. He’s unlikely to repeat his 2012 season, with his 2010 and 2011 numbers more likely. Those aren’t bad, but they detail the reality, which is that he’s a platoon player.
Of course it could be someone else from the names above. One of those guys might even be involved in this deal. We’ll have to wait and see on that. But I’d be surprised if Sands is added and all of the above players remain in the organization following the move.
On Stolmy Pimentel…
I instantly recognized Pimentel as a former top prospect in Boston’s system. He was ranked 6th in the system in 2010, and 23rd in 2011. He’s fallen in the ranks the last two years due to struggles in Double-A. Sox Prospects (which was the original inspiration for this site) notes that he throws 92-94 with control issues, has a plus changeup, and a slider with plus potential. They called him a potential fourth/fifth starter or late inning reliever. He’s 22 years old, so there’s still some time to get his control on track.
What We Know So Far…
Both Sands and Pimentel are gambles with upside. Pimentel has reached the upper 90s with his fastball, but commands it better in the lower 90s. He’s got the makings of two plus off-speed pitches, with one of them already being there. The big thing will be his command, which is an area where the Pirates have had success in the minors. Sands has hit for a lot of power, but there were reports that he’s got a big loopy swing, which could be exposed. Then again, guys have hit for power in the majors with a big loopy swing, so that’s not going to prohibit him.
I could see a scenario where Sands has a breakout season carrying his power numbers over to the majors, and/or Pimentel turns his control around and becomes a major league starter one day. At the same time, I think there’s just as good of a chance of Sands becoming a 4-A hitter, and Pimentel never making it past Double-A. Both are gambles, and they’re very hit-or-miss.
We don’t know the rest of the deal, so I’ll hold off on judging whether those are the types of players the Pirates should get for Hanrahan. I’ll just repeat that I have no problem dealing Hanrahan. There’s relievers being too volatile and the Pirates being foolish if they spend 10% of their payroll on a reliever. But there’s also the Pirates’ track record of success in adding relievers for cheap and watching them turn in to valuable pitchers. It happened with Hanrahan, and it happened with Jason Grilli. If there’s any position they can deal from and easily find a replacement, it’s the bullpen.
Now we’ll just have to wait to see the rest of this deal.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide is now available. Order your copy today!
**The 40-man payroll will be updated when this trade is finalized. I usually wait on an update until I know the salaries. Since this deal is only half-reported, I’m going to hold off on any changes. Expect payroll to go down to the estimated $66 M range with Hanrahan gone.